Since its start, South by Southwest has been the birthplace of a slew of major acts in music, tech, and entertainment, and the scope and influence of the festival seems to grow every year. Once the domain of indies and startups, SXSW has become a stage for major brands, especially in the past five years. Premieres this week include not just indie films, but movies and TV shows from major players, including the long-awaited, crowd-funded Veronica Mars movie (which word is will not disappoint the Marshmallow fandom), TNT’s summer series The Last Ship, and HBO’s tech comedy Silicon Valley. Watch What Happens Live and Jimmy Kimmel Live are both filming episodes from the festival all week. ESPN is teasing a new site run by Nate Silver. The creator of the world-famous cronut even chose the event to debut a new culinary confection invention, the cookie shot. (Yes, it is literally a delicious cookie you can take a shot out of.) In short, there is more attention focused on the festival than ever before. With all that opportunity to grab the spotlight, brands have flocked to the fest, and many are going beyond the average device-charging, beverage-providing guest lounges to create marketing experiences that will make a splash. Brands in Austin this week are testing new concepts, showing off their creativity, and aiming to create buzz amongst early-adopting, creative influencer Millennials, and beyond. Here are some of the marketing stand-outs at SXSW 2014 so far:
Pennzoil’s Real Life Mario Kart
To promote their new Motor Oil Reimagined campaign, Pennzoil staged a Mario Karting Reimagined experience the first weekend of the festival, letting attendees take part in a real life Mario Kart racing game. Staged in partnership with Nintendo—who is promoting Mario Kart 8— the promotion emulated the beloved video game and put visitors in life-size karts to race around a track collecting the familiar Mario icons, as well as a Pennzoil icon that sped up the vehicle. Each kart was equipped with an RFID chip and GoPro camera to communicate with the icons and the track. Though the experience fell short of expectations for some critics, reactions on Twitter were overwhelmingly positive, and the event was extremely popular. At one point, Pennzoil handed out pizza to the many visitors waiting in line.
Twitter trends are now officially dunkable. Oreo has had its share of social media moments, and they’re continuing to play with the medium with their Twitter-powered vending machines at their Trending Vending lounge. The machines allow attendees to print 3D Oreos in flavors based on trending Twitter topics. For example, one flavor was based on Ellen’s record-breaking Oscar selfie. There are 12 choices of crème flavor and colors for the customizable cookies, which take two minutes for the machine to assemble. Attendees have been lining up and sometimes waiting hours for their chance to choose a customized Oreo and watch it be created, and are sharing their experiences on Twitter with the hashtag #eatthetweet. The Trending Vending lounge also included a milk bar, DJ, and charging stations. Post-SXSW, the vending machines will reportedly tour the world, and according to AdAge’s in-person taste test, the 3D printed treats “taste the same.”
Subway is being called one of the biggest marketing presences at the festival, introducing new menu item The Flatizza with a multi-pronged ten-day SXSW campaign. Flatizza is being handed out to attendees via a Flatizza truck, which was at one point manned by Subway spokesperson Jared. A “SXSUBWAY Square” area hosts games, events, giveaways, and also showcased models dressed in outfits made from Flatizza boxes. At the centerpiece of the brand’s efforts are the “Eatovations” on display at their #SXSUBWAY Lounge. Playing off the wearable tech trend, eatovations include items like a sweater that orders Flatizza whenever the wearer rubs their belly, and track pants that predict the users’ next order. Those who tweet out their own eatovation concept ideas with the hashtag #SXSUBWAY have a chance to win one of the tech prototypes. But the eatovation that garnered the most buzz was a brainwave-controlled game that allows two players to engage in a mental tug of war, battling to pull a digital Flatizza onto their side of the screen by concentrating on the product. The fast-sandwich chain will be announcing Flatizza to the rest of the world via a live commercial airing during the SXSW Jimmy Kimmel episode.