"Enjoy your BIG A$$ FRIES"-brought to you by South by South West

This year celebrated the 25th year anniversary of South by South West.  SXSW, which is widely known as a music festival (and a pain in the butt by some locals) attracts thousands upon thousands of participants from around the world to Austin, Texas for a nine day showcase of interactive media, film and music. According to statistics from last year, $113 million dollars in SXSW-derived income was reported in the Austin area. Once again this year, it is said that the interactive portion of the festival beat out music for the highest number of participants.  Also notable this year was the rise in corporate sponsorship with their creative marketing programs and the increase usages/applications of social media which tied to the festival all around. 
Although SXSW is world renown as one of the most popular and eclectic music festivals, SXSW also showcases some of the most cutting edge films and  hosts one of the most innovative interactive media conventions.  The interactive media conference, usually considered to be the underdog of the festival, stood first last year (for the first time ever) in having the largest number of people in attendance, edging out the music portion of the festival by a mere 1,000 participants.

  Since the start of the interactive media portion of SXSW in 1994, the conference has experienced a continual growing in attendance (this year estimated to be 40% more than the 14,000 in 2010).  The successful SXSW launch of a little start-up, micro-blogging site called Twitter in 2007 undoubtedly is a contributing factor for the recent spike of start-up companies participating in the conference over the past few years. This year the convention was flooded with even more hopeful start-ups than the year prior.  According to many, this year's hottest thing to come out of the conference was "group texting".  Among the most popular start-up companies was the not yet launched Twilio.  However, according to one anonymous venture capitalist, the majority of these start-ups are over-saturating markets and are inevitably doomed to fail as many did during the 'dot.com' era.

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 vimeofacebook 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




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