SXSW Marketing Tactics

Some of the most popular marketing efforts at SXSW involve free food and beverages. It’s not surprising given there is even a service that tracks them (see: During the conference, brands rented a food cart, reserved space in many of bars and restaurants on 6th Street, or went the low budget route and passed out food and beverages from the back of pick-up trucks.

I started taking pictures to have some examples of various tactics.

building wrap and food cart Austin pedicab SXSW Ogilvy Notes AT&T Charging Station SXSW Stickerbook Gapingvoid Print Rackspace Tattoo Arm SXSW Austin Chronicle Booth SXSW Guardian Booth sxsw posters

1.Building Wrap and Free Food Cart

Squarespace wrapped a building just a block from the Austin Convention Center and across from the Hilton Hotel. In the picture above you can see the food cart they stationed in front of the building to serve free food to conference attendees. The only downside of free food this close to the event is that lines were long during lunch hours.

2. Pedicab Posters

Notice the signs on the back of the pedicabs? Here’s another opportunity for brands to get advertising exposure. I’m sure brands could even sponsor pedicab rides.

These riders worked all day and into the night to carry attendees from panels in one location to another, as well as from different bars and restaurants back to hotels in the evening.

At $10 per person/per ride, it was an economical way to help mitigate things being so spread out. Also, these pedicabs were much easier to flag down than traditional cabs.

3. Visual Storyteller

Ogilvy hired digital artists to create visual notes of several sessions each day. In addition to these huge poster size pieces, they printed a quantity of these for sxsw attendees.

Personally, I really like this tactic. It provides something of value that people can take home with them, in addition to being available online. It’s an example of social object that can be used to generate conversations online (like this blog post).

4. Charging Stations

This tactic has been executed by many a brand. It’s highly useful for conference attendees. AT&T’s charging station was between the bookstore and the coffee bar. And, as you might guess, it saw plenty of traffic. In addition to having the kiosk as pictured, they had a bar and chairs where people with chargers could plug in and relax. Of course, in the process of charging their device, attendees could get a little info about AT&T products and services.

I stopped in at this booth several times during the conference. I do wonder, however, how AT&T measures the effectiveness of this brand exposure.

5. Stickers

Are you the type to put stickers on your laptop? There were plenty of these available. Enough that you could go home with a full laptop lid if that’s what you’re in to.

Also, if you wanted to collect pins for your badge holder, those were really prevalent, too. I have to say, though, a brand’s pin would really have to be unique in order to stick out from all of the different options.

6. Social Objects

I’m biased (I commissioned Hugh at to create a series of prints for Intel at CES in January (see Gapingvoid Art Gallery on Inside Scoop), but I think using social objects like his fun artwork is a really dynamic way to help generate conversations in social networks for a brand. Consumers appreciate the gift and blog, tweet, and share pictures of the artwork, while each mention racks up another activation point for the brand. It’s a win-win in my opinion. Quite a few of the presentations I attended included Hugh’s artwork in their slides.

7. Tattoo Arm

Here’s an original idea that I hadn’t seen before. Rackspace gave away tattoo arms. It’s conference swag that really fits in with the culture of the conference. It’s something unique, and really cool. Plus, I bet they have created conversations online because of using them. However, what is the life of the freebie? Will people keep it once the novelty wears off? A t-shirt might have more longevity, and could even become a collector’s item depending on the artwork.

8. Booth as Meeting Space with Couches

This tactic fits intrinsically with the SXSW culture. It’s also an answer to the question, “Who can throw the best party?” There were many different booths with chairs and couches available for attendees to lounge around and chat with each other. It’s such a different experience than CES in which there are even bigger crowds.

I really liked the Austin Chronicle’s interpretation of booth seating. See the casual couches in the photo above. It fits right in with the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan you see around town. They know their audience. So too does the Guardian, which offered much more yuppie places to sit and talk in keeping with their brand.

9. Posters

Some of the people who hang posters have developed it into an art form — hanging it in such a way so that it sticks out past the pillar or post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *