SXSW Preview: What Brands Have Planned for This Year's Festival

By Brendan Spiegel March 4, 2013, 7:10 AM EST

South by Southwest will once again attract thousands to Austin for its music, film, and interactive festivals. The Fader will once again host its fort, returning with partner Converse to provide unusual offerings like a free pair of sneakers for anyone who gets a mohawk from Bird's Barbershop.

Photo: Destry Jaimes

If it's March, it must be time for some 32,000 music, movie, and media mavens to once again descend upon Austin, Texas, for South by Southwest, set to kick off this Friday. The once-alternative festival may have grown more mainstream than ever before—big-name music acts like Green Day and Stevie Nicks will appear, while stars including Jim Carrey and Steve Carell plan to walk some of the 33 red carpet events—but brands still see SXSW as a prime time to reach more discerning influencers from across the country. Which presents a unique juggling act: how to appear indie, cool, and of-the-moment, while still being bold enough to stand out while hundreds of others angle for attention?

For many longtime sponsors, that means going bigger. Case in point: music magazine Filter will co-present Filter on Rainey Powered by Tumblr, the first-ever branded “street” officially sanctioned by SXSW. The massive block party will take over an entire street in the heart of the festival, providing space for partners like Absolut, Dickies, Dr. Martens, and Macy's American Rag to set up individualized headquarter-hubs alongside live shows by the likes of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, and Icona Pop.

In contrast, there will, of course, be plenty of quirky efforts—such as free Converse sneakers for any attendee that gets a mohawk from Austin's Bird's Barbershop inside the Fader Fort presented by Converse. And, with the interactive component of SXSW growing increasingly popular, tech brands will compete for attention via activations. For instance, Samsung will offer a battery-on-demand service, where attendees can tweet a special hashtag to the Samsung Mobile Twitter handle and have a fully charged battery for their smartphone delivered directly to them.

One of the most notable new elements of this year's SXSW is the extent to which the increasingly segmented television industry will have a presence at the event (which is officially limited to music, movies, and interactive media). With dozens of TV-centric events on the schedule, SXSW is set to feel almost like a mini upfront season.

Warner Brothers Television Group will make its debut appearance with an immersive space that features CW programming alongside festival staples like moonshine distilleries and reclaimed bicycle part decor. Bravo will bring Andy Cohen’s Watch What Happens Live to town for live tapings; DirectTV will host advance screenings of its upcoming first original series, Rogue; and the IFC (which has long been a part of the festival) will present an official SXSW music venue.

In one of the more ambitious activations, SyFy will promote its hybrid TV-show-cum-video-game Defiance with the Defiance Container Village, where invited guests can meet cast members, play the game, and even—avoiding SXSW’s perennial problem of sold-out hotels—stay overnight.

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