As South by Southwest has grown into a beast that stretches far beyond the confines of the Austin Convention Center, so has the level of corporate interest. This year’s Interactive conference doesn’t present marketing to you so much as beats you over the head with it. Adrants summed it up well this week:
“From Sony to Samsung, to Chevrolet to Pepsi and many, many more, the ACC and surrounding areas have been plastered with some of the most elaborate brand statements we’ve ever seen. Yes. SXSW is no longer the geekfest it once was. And as we’ve said, it’s been heading away from that cute little anachronism for some time now but this year, well, this year the brands have taken over every last square inch of Austin.”
Just southeast of the convention center lies the HP Trailer Park, a grouping of vintage Airstreams around a stretch of Astroturf on which visitors can play lawn games, sip free booze and “experience” the company’s products. To the west, the CNN SXSW Grill and Pepsi MAX parking lot (yes, that’s right) prominently sit, hosting events all week. Even the charging stations for laptops – nothing more than cheap power strips – are all sponsored.
So, does this omnipresent blanket of branding detract from the original spirit of the conference? Perhaps. It does, however, offer some interesting interactive experiences for attendees, or at minimum, free swag. It also makes it possible – particularly through sponsored showcases at the film and music conferences – for artists to be seen and heard who might not otherwise be able to get direct public exposure. Think of it as 21st-century patronage – albeit with patrons who desperately want to sell you something.