Mar 14 2019
Marketers may still be doubting the impact of SXSW activations, with many starting to scale back their spend on the event last year per Adweek, but what happens there is often emblematic of what’s happening in the ad world as a whole. So, even as the event caters more to industry insiders, keeping an eye on what’s up-and-coming, and what’s breaking through, remains important year after year. Plus, the entire event is a proving ground for experience-based marketing activations that could spin off into other cities, and reel in outside-of-the-industry young consumers. Consider this: brand-sponsored entertainment and branded events are the top ranking types of marketing 13-36-year-olds say they love/like, according to YPulse’s recent ad/marketing effectiveness survey.
So, what made headlines this year? Besides abandoned scooters from trendy startups littering the streets, per the Verge, there were skating rinks, smart tampon vending machines, clever social media stunts, and plenty of science-backed beauty exhibits—like L’Oreal’s “Know Your Skin” biotech kits and Lush’s augmented reality-fueled bath bomb shopping, reports Digiday. But the real winner of headlines continued on a trend we saw rising at last year’s SXSW: purpose-driven marketing. Game of Thrones asked for blood sacrifices from its gore-loving fans—for a good cause—by teaming up with the American Red Cross for their SXSW installation, where attendees that sign up to donate blood were “recognized and rewarded for their bravery,” Vice reports. The trends that took over SXSW may not all be new, but here are the three that broke through, pervading the event grounds in unexpected ways:
If attendees are a lot more mellow this year than in years past, it’s because the marijuanaconomy’s trendiest remedy is being handed out like candy. And our Cannabis Infusion trend indicated Gen Z & Millennials are fueling the trend: 59% of 18-36-year-olds say CBD should be more mainstream and 63% say it should be legal in all forms. CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is available at standalone marketing experiences throughout the event and as part of partnered activations with wellness brands. Medterra CBD is promoting their calming personal care products featuring the chemical with a CBD cocktail hour followed by a relaxing yoga session. SXSW itself is featuring a “Cannabusiness” set of 44 sessions focused on the business side of the up-and-coming (and potentially extremely lucrative) industry, and attendees can access all that educational material at The Leafly Lounge, according to the sponsor Leafly. Guests could also get a Champ CBD energy drink and a goodie bag of other products at the Hemp Today activation from Cannabis Now Media or a CBD facial, yet another example of how the green ingredient is invading beauty.
Part of the drive behind cannabis hitting a high point at SXSW is young consumers’ penchant for self-care, which they’re treating themselves to more than ever these days—and many events at the fest were geared towards giving them a moment of calm or relaxing indulgence. According to Forbes, Chillhouse has brought their manis and massages from NYC to Austin for the week while The Four Seasons offered similar services along with face masks and personal care products. Lululemon offered yoga (of course) and Goop’s pop-up had creative workouts like Dance Cardio, reports Digiday. While many focused on external self-care remedies, others made headlines for getting in attendees’ heads with mental wellness. Michelob Ultra made headlines for their guided meditation, according to Adweek. At sunset, they led the crowd through what they called The Big Quiet, gently nudging everyone back into the noisy festival with the help of music artist Miguel. The activation continues the quiet theme of their ASMR Super Bowl campaign, which was a hit YouTube.
Young consumers are still taking any opportunity to snap a pic, and SXSW activations that feed them social media-ready photo opps stand to earn organic engagements. Land O’Lakes took a cue from the likes of mega-successful Millennial-aimed exhibits like the Museum of Ice Cream and the Color Factory with their larger-than-life bright green avocado ball pit. And that was just one piece of their 6,000 square foot immersive installment, where they’re telling a story about “food or water” for the third year in a row, reports Adweek, each year raking in hundreds of thousands impressions. Meanwhile, SXSW was used as the platform for kicking off a DC Heroes esports pop-up bar that’s full of Instagram-worthy experiences based on gamers’ favorite retro characters. “Levels Unlocked: House of DC Heroes” will also be coming to select cities following the event. Another experience popping up in Austin, though not at the actual event, is Cholula’s Tacotopia. According to their website, the “Instagrammable wonderland” will be full of “larger-than-life installations ranging from the Goddess of Tacos to an oversized bowl of foam Pico De Gallo in the Pico Pit, an immersive Senorita Needs a Margarita lime swing, a taco teeter totter, and Piñatapoloza.”
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