Countries Host SXSW Activations To Market Diplomacy, Tech And Tourism

SXSW—more specifically, the SXSW Interactive Festival—has turned into a boomtown for diplomacy.

Different countries emit their presence among Austin venues turned into sponsored activations. At Casa Peru, there’s a photo booth with stuffed llamas and a full pisco sour bar. At the British Music Embassy, overseas indie and electronic acts are booked for days straight. On the convention floor, representatives from Brazil’s trade mission are telling passersby about the country’s booming economic sector.

There are many attractive reasons for foreign countries to set up shop at SXSW. Countries may want to host private dinners for tech investors and journalists to introduce them to local startups; flying over a popular local band, inviting social media tastemakers, and setting up Instagram-ready samples of foreign specialties can boost tourism dollars; and because of SXSW’s sheer numbers—there were just over 70,000 total attendees in 2016 from 95 countries, and even more attendees at unofficial events around town—the conference is becoming increasingly attractive to diplomatic and trade missions.

While there are conferences which are more comprehensive for individual industries, such as the Mobile World Congress and NRF Big Show, SXSW offers some of the best bang-for-the-buck for marketing and advertising. And Austin provides a nexus for promoting to a mostly well-off audience who will amplify their message on social media.

A notable diplomatic presence, the European Union hosted three days of events to promote tech-related EU initiatives, while countries like the Netherlands and Germany offered installations designed to lure investors and promote their countries as tourism destinations. Individual cities provided their own activations promoting regional tech and cultural activities as well.

This year, the German city of Hamburg rented out a hamburger stand directly across from the Austin Convention Center for a multi-day activation. The city uses its SXSW presence to promote local startups and its Reeperbahn Festival, a large music and digital event whose audience overlaps with SXSW considerably.

Michael Otremba, CEO of Hamburg Marketing, said over 105 companies attended SXSW from Hamburg last year, with more than 150 people representing.

For Startup Buenos Aires, an organization building connections for that city’s startup scene, the goal is to introduce Buenos Aires entrepreneurs to Austin and market the city as an attractive destination for entering the North American market (it’s cheaper than living in San Francisco).

“Argentinians typically think of Miami [for business] because it is the gateway to the Americas, or New York, or Silicon Valley,” said Lisa Besserman, who works for Startup Buenos Aires and is a recent transplant to Austin. “We want to promote Austin as a great place to potentially scale startups who are thinking about entering the United States.”

Representing the Netherlands, the New Dutch Wave activation conveys overlapping tech and music programming. The event is supported by the Dutch Foreign Affairs Ministry and Creative Holland, a government-supported entrepreneurial organization, and is typical of the mix among many of the national activations at SXSW: Sober talks on marketing, design and startup launches are accompanied by performances by Dutch musicians in the evening and installations by Dutch artists.

Yorick Michelbrink of the Dutch Foreign Affairs Ministry notes the audience at SXSW is a bit different from typical Dutch trade outreach, citing agriculture and water management events as examples of places where you’d typically see an official Dutch presence.

“For us, what we do here in Austin is the blurring of the lines between corporate, startups, creatives and artists,” said Danny Freitman of Enterprise Summits, a Dutch events firm that founded the event alongside Wink, an Amsterdam-based marketing company.

While many of these activations from around the globe bear official sponsorship from their country of origin, some operate without formal government involvement. Nigerian events firm Temple Management and the U.S. African Development Corporation, an American federal government agency, cosponsored Africa House, a two-day activation. The event included talks by entrepreneurs and artists from across the continent, a breakfast spotlighting Nigeria’s tech community and music in the evening.

Meanwhile, China skipped the fancy public activations in favor of focusing on panels and private events, including a party with Chinese musical arts, representatives from Alibaba and other firms, diplomatic representatives and local politicians.

Emergen-C Pedals Into SXSW With A Mobile Revitalization Station

Vitamin supplement brand Emergen-C kickstarted an experiential campaign at SXSW to promote its newest products—and a moment for consumers to rest and recharge—with a mobile revitalization station.

The experience took 15 people at a time on 10-minute rides around town on a self-propelled contraption designed to endorse Probiotics+, the latest line in the brand’s portfolio.

Akosua Asamoah, senior brand manager of Emergen-C, told AListDaily that the timing of the activation was a great fit for the Pfizer-owned brand to make its experiential debut in Austin because it also coincided with the Wellness Expo and targeted a core user group they were actively trying to reach.

“Consumers are increasingly more interested in their overall health and wellness,” said Asamoah. “It’s important for Emergen-C to show up in places like SXSW in order to inform people of the range of wellness benefits available that can be incorporated into daily routines.”

Emergen-C was one of several brands that ventured to SXSW this year to promote marketing messages around health and fitness, which is seemingly a popular trend to reach bleary-eyed attendees who’ve made body-damaging decisions at the endless events and parties.

Others brands that brought experiential marketing messaging underscoring the importance of proper health and nutrition at SXSW included Gatorade, Land O’Lakes, Herbalife and Califia Farms.

Express Teases New Retail Concept With One-Day SXSW Pop-Up

While SXSW brand activations tend to take place for anywhere between two and 10 days, fashion retailer Express opted for a different approach this year.

Tapping into an element of festival “FOMO,” the clothing company built a one-day pop-up shop in downtown Austin billed as “The Express Bungalow,” offering a glimpse of its first-to-retail work concept shop opening in New York City later this month. The space was designed to be a reflection of the curated assortment that will be available at its new store.

“SXSW brings together individuals with world-changing ideas, and we wanted to meet them there to inspire and equip them to get to what’s next in their lives,” Jim Hilt, CMO for Express, told AListDaily.

The brand leveraged a 14-hour window with programming that aimed to offer educational and career-minded content and paired it with musical performances at night—all while promoting its latest lines of clothing.

The company also coordinated discussions concurrently serving its content marketing mix with live, career-centric podcasts featuring senior leadership from Facebook and Pandora. The conversations promoted a new survey that Express conducted with the The Levo Institute around the changing definition of work.

Express paired its SXSW activation with its “Game Changers” campaign, which focuses on athletes who harness passion, fashion and technology to achieve career goals.

Hilt said the festival was a natural place to continue scaling their marketing strategy, as the brand is looking for “inspiring individuals” to collaborate with through its partnerships and marketing programs.

Land O’Lakes Cultivates Younger Users With SXSW Event

Land O’Lakes wants younger consumers to know that it’s more than just a butter brand.

The company—a farmer-owned agricultural cooperative—made its SXSW debut in Austin this year with “The Food Effect,” an activation that dives into a dialogue of how people grow their food.

Since Land O’Lakes skews more toward older consumers with its different lines of businesses and sub-brands, the company wanted to set the stage at SXSW to speak directly to a younger audience with its experiences, said Kim Olson, chief communications officer at Land O’Lakes. She noted that they doubled the amount of attendees they were originally expecting.

The four-day experience took place during Interactive and featured a variety of exhibits illustrating challenges and innovations related with food production. The goal of the marketing activation was to engage a new group of consumers by addressing issues around food security and ultimately identifying solutions.

“We’re interested in an open and honest conversation about agriculture and technology, and we understand that our brand can have a role in the space,” Olson told AListDaily. “We want to make fewer yet bigger marketing efforts, and SXSW is a great place to start those conversations. It was the right time for us.”

Attendees entering the expansive space in downtown Austin were greeted with “Insecure Lines,” an experience that invites people to pick up a phone and listen to the voices of those who are struggling with hunger. Each time a story was heard, a meal was donated. By Monday afternoon, a digital overhead counter displayed that over 5,000 people had gone through the experience.

The space also offered a virtual reality experience that took place inside of a lettuce head suspended in the air, demonstrating innovative farming techniques, a station with a DNA strand that illustrated the potential of science to feed more people and an art demonstration that mapped farm fields with satellite imagery.

The company also partnered with National Geographic for panel discussions to bring different viewpoints to its dialogue and marketing agenda.

According to Olson, the brand effectively reached the younger demographic of consumers it was marketing to both in the space at SXSW and on different online channels, with 18 percent engagement across all of their used social media platforms.

“It’s our first foray into experiential marketing at SXSW, and the initial results have been great,” she said.

The Minneapolis-based company also had an experiential marketing activation during the Super Bowl in Minnesota last month with the Farm Bowl, a farm-themed competition course designed to inspire the next generation of consumers about agriculture.

Google Continues Making Case For Voice With SXSW Fun House

Google is making a case that it’s serious about competing with Amazon Alexa and seizing available market share by continuing its heavy promotional push for Google Assistant at SXSW.

The company came to Austin this year to get consumers more acclimated with voice technology and artificial intelligence with the Google Assistant Fun House, which demonstrated some of the ways people are using its Actions in everyday life. Google also shuttled attendees around the city with Google Hoppers, a branded ride service that was free to all SXSW badge holders.

During SXSW, the company’s experiential marketing strategy and presence was similar to the one it activated in January and was a continuation of the ad campaign it introduced during the Academy Awards.

People in Austin appeared to be interested with the fairly nascent platform of digital assistants and the promise voice technology presents. The Fun House regularly had some of the longest lines during Interactive to experience the activation.

Attendees who entered the space were greeted by a Google-branded lowrider that was parked on the lawn. With the voice command “OK, Google: bounce,” the car danced up and down to music—like War’s “Low Rider.” Through a partnership with Spot Hero, it also exhibited how people can find parking spots and even a lost car through the digital assistant.

Upon leaving the classic car, guests were able to see how they could trigger a water sprinkler through voice before being invited into a 12-room, two-story home that gave people a look into how voice can be integrated across all touchpoints.

From lights to litter boxes to laundry, each section of the house exhibited different ways people are using voice technology to make their lives simpler.

Google also used SXSW to showcase partners like Patrón and Dominoes and how it’s building an integrated ecosystem around Assistant in order to keep pace with Amazon. The tequila brand was a first-mover into voice in 2016 and brought a margarita bar that dispensed cocktails on command.

“It’s pretty obvious Google is trying to integrate voice into as many things as possible,” said Jesper Nolhage, a user experience specialist for Volvo who was one of the attendees that toured the space. “The demonstrations in the house felt more like gimmicks than actually meeting real needs, but it was still interesting to see what Google is able to pull off.”

Gatorade’s Experiential Marketing At SXSW Showcases Sports Technology

For a brand like Gatorade, SXSW certainly feels like a fitting place to further test its experiential marketing strategy with dehydrated and bleary-eyed attendees and give them a health-focused reality check. Gatorade geared up at SXSW to show attendees it’s more than just a beverage company.

The company erected a G-Store pop-up at the event, featuring their products and a new line, G ESSNTL. Attendees were given a tablet and asked to scan four separate sections of the store to learn more about each item through augmented reality. After completing the course, a refrigerator filled with Gatorade opened its doors to a space that shows how the brand is using tech as part of its marketing strategy.

“G-Store is a way for us to showcase how broad the Gatorade product portfolio really is through hydration, energy, recovery, endurance products and more—but with a twist,” said Gina Hardy, head of consumer and athlete engagement, to AListDaily. “While the retail shop spotlights our innovation, the stockroom is a competitive playground that showcases how evolving technology is fueling training for athletes.”

Once attendees walked through the refrigerator, they were able to try different tech training tools. Gatorade partnered with the app Volt to create an on-demand digital trainer.

Then there was Beat the Blitz. Gatorade’s virtual reality game shows users how dehydration can impact throwing accuracy and overall performance for quarterbacks.

Gatorade’s “Handles Hero” leveraged the Lazer 900 to deliver ball-handling drills using a real basketball designed to train players to make decisions quickly and correctly, similar to a live game situation.

“SXSW is such a destination event, and there’s competition for engagement in every direction,” said Hardy. “The key to being successful—no matter where you are—is staying authentic to your brand.”

AMC Takes To SXSW To Promote Its Newest Show, ‘The Terror’

AMC is leveraging SXSW’s experiential playground to continue building up the marketing of its latest drama, The Terror, with an immersive, multi-sensory experience that takes place in a boat built in a shipping container.

The show’s premise is about the British Royal Navy’s disastrous 1845 trip into uncharted territory as the crew attempts to discover the Northwest Passage. To promote the 10-episode first season of its haunting new series, the experience is designed to spark viewership interest with a first-hand look at what it could have been like to be a crew member on the ship.

“That aspect of the show has universal appeal, and SXSW is a good place to tap into potential new viewers,” Theresa Beyer, SVP of promotions, activations and partnerships for AMC, told AListDaily. “Putting people into a similar environment reflects the action of the show and is a more engaging way to get people into the story.”

The show is a speculative fiction about how 120 crew members aboard a ship mysteriously disappeared. Guests who entered the arctic experience were greeted by characters from the show and were then thrust into bone-chilling conditions where they were subjected to hearing the gruesome sounds of men fighting for their lives.

“We could have done something simpler through VR, put this kind of experience allows people to participate and ignites their senses,” said Beyer, adding that the elements they produced allow for the experience to resonate and create better consumer recall.

The next leg of the marketing strategy for the show will take place at WonderCon later this month when AMC will bring the exact same experience to Los Angeles.

Executive produced by Ridley Scott, David Kajganich and Soo Hugh, the two-hour series premiere for The Terror is set to premiere March 26.


Bumble Brings A Mission To Promote Equality At SXSW

SXSW can serve as fertile grounds for singles who yearn for love or casual encounters on dating apps. Bumble, a four-year-old app which currently has 27 million users, is in the midst of a growing marketing mission with hopes of expanding its reach globally.

The female-first social networking app came to Austin at Fair Market for a potential match with attendees this weekend for a two-day experiential marketing activation centered around giving badge holders a crack at romance and leveraging its platform to continue discussions around female empowerment, inclusion in the workplace and how to build healthy relationships.

“Bumble Presents: Empowering Connections” gave attendees a chance to pimp their profiles at a “Bio Bar” before sending them off to make the first move on five-minute speed dates.

Bumble also brought along Bumble Bizz, which gives startups a chance pitch their business idea for a chance to win mentorship and a $5,000 grant.

Discussions around gender equality with actress and activist Gina Rodriguez, author Keke Palmer and Bumble founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd anchored the event’s programming.

Earlier this week, the app signed on as an official sponsor with the Los Angeles Clippers. The brand’s logo will now appear on the team’s jersey.

Much like their presence at SXSW, the deal launched a marketing campaign to partner with brands to advance workplace equality.

Under Armour Runs Through SXSW With Hovr House Zero Gravity Experience

Under Armour brought a “zero gravity experience” to SXSW to promote its new UA Hovr line of running shoes.

Visitors to downtown Austin, Texas, noticed a geodesic dome being erected on Wednesday, as pointed out by Twitter user HappySlice.

Dubbed Hovr House, the giant red dome arrived at SXSW after its first stops in LA and Shanghai last month. The pop-up experience filled its dome with athletes and celebrities among displays of UA Hovr running shoes and an “elevated track,” an aerial rig that lets users run up a vertical wall.

The activation follows the theme of its new lightweight shoes, “Gravity holds you down, feel how UA Hovr lifts you up.” This experiential marketing activation continues the biggest and most expensive campaign for a product the brand has ever done.

Under Armour’s experiential marketing campaign continues in Texas this weekend with pop-up running events, live UA footwear customizations by Dez Customz, an outdoor lounge and a VIP meet and greet event.

Hovr House will be open to the public beginning Saturday, March 10 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, March 11 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The athletic brand is throwing everything it has at its new UA Hovr line, beginning with a simultaneous world release—the first of its kind for Under Armour. Pop-up activations and influencer marketing play a significant role, going so far as to deliver shoes to online celebrities in white Rolls-Royce Phantoms. (Phantom is the name of one of Hovr’s first models.)

Digital ecommerce is ravaging retailers, and Under Armour is no exception. Last year, the company reported their first quarterly loss since going public in 2006. Under Armour shook things up by hiring a new COO and CMO in 2017 and is shifting focus to young consumers with technology like app-connected shoes and gaming.

McDonald’s Inverted Logo Stood For ‘Women,’ But Critics Demand ‘Wages’

McDonald’s flipped its golden arches to stand for the “W” in “women” on Thursday, a gesture of appreciation for its female employees. While some applauded the move, others used the opportunity to demand the quick service restaurant provide a living wage to its employees.

The McDonald’s restaurant in Lynwood, California, turned its golden arches upside down in honor of International Women’s Day. The gesture was made by franchisee Patricia Williams, who owns 18 McDonald’s restaurants alongside her two daughters.

Williams’ story and logo inversion are part of a bigger campaign around International Women’s Day. McDonald’s has flipped its logo across all digital channels, and 100 restaurants will have special packaging, crew shirts and hats and bag stuffers as part of a nationwide effort.

In a prepared statement, McDonald’s Global Chief Diversity Officer Wendy Lewis said the move was to “honor the extraordinary accomplishments of women everywhere, and especially in our restaurants.”

The restaurant brand claims that six out of 10 managers in their employ are female.

While some appreciated the gesture, many others did not, calling the restaurant’s efforts “McFeminism”—a term that refers to the hollow efforts of a corporation to appeal to women. The quick service restaurant has long been under fire for paying its employees minimum wage, a fact that many consider counter-intuitive to helping women. Workers have demanded a living wage—equal to the basic cost of living expenses plus an “acceptable” comfort level, a relative term the definition of which is often up for debate.

“This empty McFeminism has nothing to do with women’s liberation and everything to do with McDonald’s attempt to sanitize its image,” Laura Parker, national coordination for British left-wing group Momentum, said in a video response. “If they actually cared about women, they’d pay their workers a living wage and stop forcing them onto zero-hours contracts.”

Brands across the country took to social media with shoutouts to their female employees or characters from fictional heroes across TV, film and video games to real-life public figures, like video game developers and NASA’s crack team of women scientists.

In the marketing world, Creative Equals—a non-profit organization that champions diversity in creative industries—released a campaign that reimagines famous logos as women. Gender-bending iterations include Green Giant, DreamWorks, BAFTA and Bic.

Just 11.5 percent of design directors are women, and that goes for 14 percent of creative directors, Creative Equals says, explaining why so many famous brand icons are male.

International Women’s Day sparks discussion about equality and gender identity this week as hundreds of thousands of professionals head to SXSW in Austin, Texas. The holiday comes during a turbulent time of #MeToo and #TimesUp movements that empower women across film and other industries against sexual harassment and assault. As women members of the film industry flock to Austin this week for SXSW, there will plenty of panels and events to educate and empower.

For those readers in attendance, John Hardy is hosting a party to celebrate the holiday at the Four Seasons Terrace March 11.