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SXSW – Exploring Spotlight Purpose-led Brand Activations

SXSW – Exploring Spotlight Purpose-led Brand Activations

South by South West (SXSW) is a major interactive event festival based in Austin, Texas every spring. The ten-day festival has evolved since its humble beginnings in 1987, and now provides brands and consumers a unique opportunity to explore the worlds of Interactive, Film, Music, and Comedy with screenings, showcases, podcast recordings, immersive exhibits, and networking experiences, engaging roughly 450,000 people over the course of 10 days and nights.

MKTG’s President Matt Logue attended the festivities (strictly for business…), reporting back to the team to detail highlights, trends and key learnings for both brands and sponsorship marketers.

Navigating SXSW

Once you’re in Austin, the SXSW mobile app made it easy for attendees to keep track of the different events going on, offering options to RSVP and potentially be eligible for express passes for events. Right from the get go, Matt noted that this process gives festival goers FOMO with so many amazing events, many of which happen at the same time, attendees couldn’t possibly see everything, and had to make difficult decisions with where to spend their time. This added to the excitement and really reflects the need for brands to truly deliver value to attendees. Not only did audiences miss out on other events to attend yours, but the people attending these events attend with a critical eye.

“The audience is influencers and those disposed to share. It’s crucial for brands to deliver on expectations, not just bait consumers in”
— Matt Logue
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In terms of transportation, scooters were the clear method of choice. Many dockless e-scooter companies used SXSW as an opportunity to test the waters and gain sign ups, reflected clearly through the fleet of nearly 9,000 dockless scooters that permeated the city for the event. They were popular given their convenience – easy to park, don’t have to worry about a car and you can whip around to events faster than you could on foot. Less time commuting = more time to experience the festival. This was a clear sign of things to come – and given their popularity, look out for e-scooters popping up in your city if they haven’t already.


SPOTLIGHT: Brands Strategically Aligning CSR Efforts with Brand Objectives

A unique element of many branded experiences this year were the deliberate integration of the brand’s CSR efforts elevated as a key pillar of the brand experience. As consumers continue to demand more meaning from the brands they embrace (proven through examples like Nike x Kaepernick), and brands in all industries shift towards more purpose-led mindsets, this approach is proving to be more than just a trend – it’s a critical aspect of many organizations moving forward.

At SXSW there were many examples of this shift, but two of our favourite examples of came in the form of immersive experiences, and connected fitness:

HBO x the American Red Cross’ Bleed for the Throne Blood Drive

Bleed for the Throne invited attendees to enter an immersive experience inspired by the sacrifices of their favourite Game of Thrones characters, encouraging them to literally bleed for the throne themselves, through donating blood to the American Red Cross. Fans were led through storylines of various characters via audio, visual and physical installations. The immersive experience was brought to life through actors donned in iconic GoT garments after which attendees witnessed a choir perform music inspired by GoT and finally, received a commemorative pin which unlocked Snapchat filters, as well as other free giveaways. Given the long line wait to enter all the activations at SXSW, it was experiences like this one that make it worth the wait.

HBO’s activation was a huge hit, and its partnership with the Red Cross reflected an amazing brand effort to create an experience for avid fans, while also embodying the values of the brand itself. For a network known in part for its extremely bloody content, this activation feels like a natural extension of the brand, and allows the audience to directly participate in giving back.

Under Armour & SAP Team up with the Girl Scouts to Celebrate International Women’s Day

In honour of International Women’s Day, Under Armour and SAP teamed up for the SAP + Under Armour basketball experience to provide young girls with resources and tools for success on and off the court. They incentivized participation from attendees by awarding a donation of Steph Curry 5 shoes to the Girl Scouts of Central Texas for every high score made on the court. The Girl Scouts will be passing the shoes along to girls in underserved communities during their local outreach programs. This was an opportunity for UA to showcase their performance gear, whilst also supporting a local outreach program that is aligned with their CSR of supporting the development of women, through a natural connection with the Girl Guides. After the activation was a Girl Scout Cookie reception where SAP CMO Alicia Tillman presented the Girl Scouts with their Steph Curry 5 sneakers, catered by classic Girls Guide cookies and snacks.

This was a strategic effort from UA to support women and girls through basketball, particularly following the story of Riley, the 9-year-old girl who wrote Steph Curry a letter shedding light on UA and Steph’s lack of girls’ sizing on their website. As a result, Steph surprised Riley with a handwritten letter, new kicks and even collaborated with her on designing a pair of UA Icon Curry 6’s. In terms of SAP, these efforts aligned with their aim to be champions of gender diversity and inclusion, particularly as it relates to women in the workforce.

Both of the above collaborations effectively communicated their respective brands’ messaging while impacting fans and benefitting a good cause at the same time - two partners coming together for an authentic philanthropic effort, effectively integrating and brand messaging and aligning with CSR missions.

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