Over the years, SXSW has not only proven to be a successful business opportunity for start-ups but also an excellent venue for major companies like GMC, Miller Lite, AOL, IFC, Pepsi, Microsoft, Samsung and AT&T, to gain festival-wide exposure to the roughly two hundred thousand in attendance as official sponsors of SXSW. Major companies deployed unique and creative marketing efforts to entice consumers with headlining bands, celebrity appearances, free rides, free booze, food and swag. Companies like GMC deployed creative promotional marketing tactics with programs like Catch a Chevy and Drive a Chevy. Through these programs consumers got a "hands on experience" with products through test drives of the newly released Chevy Volt (among other vehicles) or by catching a 100% free shuttle ride in the 2011 Chevy Cruze to and from any of the SXSW venues. Other companies like Apple capitalized on this foot traffic by opening a convenient Apple iPad 2 pop-up store located in the middle of downtown Austin (which had consumers waiting in line around the block and around the clock). In addition Microsoft took this opportunity at the Interactive media conference to become the first mainstream company to launch a product in the conference's history –Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9.
Social media websites and smart phone applications played a huge role in creating a "buzz" and a system of RSVP'ing for a number of big name company sponsored free events (that didn't always require a wristband or badge). Big players like Nikon used social media to create buzz for an interactive treasure hunt using vimeo, facebook and twitter which lead to an invite to attend a private party on a bus with Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore that had free beer, food and Nikon camera giveaways. Not only did social media play a huge role in putting the word out about the latest parties, social media like twitter was an important tool for companies like GMC to gain candid proof of the success of the program.
Skeptic of the increase in corporate involvement with SXSW raise the question "Is anything really free or is there ultimately a price to pay?" They say the presence of big corporations is too "in your face" and they think SXSW has become yet another institution that sold out to become a festival of "idiocracy". However, according to the SXSW website, "SXSW's original goal was to create an event that would act as a tool for creative people and the companies they work with to develop their careers and to bring together people from a wide area to meet and share ideas." Which continues to be the goal today but on a much larger scale than probably ever imagined 25 years ago. Some of the biggest supporters of big corporation involvement in SXSW are the small business owners and those in the service industry that profit from the growth of SXSW. "SXSW is like a 2nd Christmas for us!" said one local bartender. The free element to these events and the fact that some of them did not require a SXSW badge or wristband was a big perk for consumers which afforded everyone the opportunity to participate in the SXSW festivities on the company's dollar. Consumers like Lisa, a single parent gas station worker, says "I promised my daughter we'd see Los Lonely Boys during SXSW, and I am glad I got to keep my promise. It was the first time I'd seen them. They were amazing, and best of all it was FREE!"
For more information on the festival visit sxsw.com