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Sponsorship marketing at SXSW – Part 1


Fresh brand activations from Austin

As I’m writing this in a coffee shop that just yesterday was the M&M Lounge, I can’t help but marvel at the high quality, ephemeral productions I’ve seen. Brands are paying top dollar for pop-up activations in the hopes of reaching a one-of-kind audience of brand marketers, advertisers, creators and the like. And while some brands may not always appear to have clear objectives, or even a presence that’s relevant at SXSW (besides the fact that some of them can’t afford not to be here), most of them were very well integrated into the world that is South by Southwest.

With the sheer number of activations and their short operation periods (some are on for only two days), plus the crazy line-ups (Hello Gatorade!), it would have been a thankless challenge to visit them all. We did however manage to cover a few of them, and we present them here over different blog posts.

Enjoy the read!

Post 1: Gatorade, Sony, Armani, Capital One

Post 2: Panasonic, YouTube, Carvana, Animal Kingdom, M&M, American Gods

Gatorade – Experience the combine of the future

When your original formula was invented in 1965 and you own about 80% of the hydration market, how do you stay relevant to younger audiences? It’s certainly a priority for Gatorade’s marketing team, as the brand has recently focused on tech initiatives related to sports. This activation was no different, immersing the visitors in a hi-tech-sports-combine experience.

A sports combine is a combination of certain sport-specific conditioning drills to determine speed, strength and skill level. Gatorade teamed up with sport-tech companies to reinvent this process in a football context over six stations. The experience included measuring posture with cameras, strength and balance with a special plate and athletic decision-making with a VR experience, and the endeavour was topped off with a 360-degree camera and a goodie bag.

Hats off to Gatorade and their agency for a well-crafted experience and flawless production. One of its cleverer aspects was the onboarding in the line-up, which included a dedicated landing page and a short survey to measure audience pre- and post-perception. Once arrived, each person was assigned an RFID bracelet with their profile, which helped the teams enjoy a personalized one-on-one interaction at each station. This also allowed the experience to extend beyond the 30-minute visit, as once over, all the results were sent via email. The 360-degree camera and video loop was optimized to share to Instagram for increased visibility. Finally, the experience ended with the post-event survey.


While it was a fantastic activation, it might have been more relevant for the brand to tie in hydration (or “fuel” as they say), as it’s Gatorade’s core business. I have my doubts that the spill-over effect of the tech experience transforms into perception and different brand attributes for the sport fuel specialist. The brand is in fact working on a far more interesting project: custom hydration solutions tailored for each athlete. That would have fit nicely in the environment they created, but instead they kept the product presence to a minimum, leaving participants with a bottle at the door.
In addition to the two free pieces of maki (thanks), visitors could also get a taste of a VR game where the players collaborate, playing as teams in a space that the audience could watch simultaneously on screens. I found this particularly interesting, as it overcomes one of the issues with VR: its very individualized experience.

Other experiences were an augmented reality climbing wall featuring Spiderman, an immersive “teleportation” 360-degree projection device that allowed you to visit various locations to take pictures as if you were there (although the use of Google Street View made the images slightly blurry), together with other features controlled by touch, an android robot and a massive 4K screen.

Sony – Japan Wow Factory

Sony’s Japan House was an eclectic showcase of prototypes, arts and technology. I had the feeling that the brand wanted to demonstrate it’s still riding the cutting edge of innovation, even if the big Japanese brands may have been overshadowed by newer tech innovators and major US tech companies.

The experience was quite diverse, even overwhelming at times, with so many different stations packed into a huge space near Rainey Street. However, I think Sony won it’s gamble to inspire visitors’ enthusiasm about up-and-coming products, of which the most fascinating for me was a small computer with no screen or keyboard that projects onto a surface an image that can then be controlled with motion. Another interesting product being showcased was wireless in-ear headphones that allow ambient sounds to pass through, while the DJ controlled his beats on the above-mentioned Xperia computer.


Giorgio Armani – Films of city frames

To showcase its line of glasses, Armani crafted a beautiful activation with the refined level of production we expect from a luxury brand. In line with the brand, visitors enter a dimly lit environment where the products are showcased alongside a series of touch screens presenting short conceptual movies directed and produced by film students from various prestigious film schools around the world.

The very artsy production served as a backdrop to showcase the products in these short stories, for objectives that are, I imagine, brand image, product knowledge and consideration.

There was a nice hi-tech twist to the activation to keep visitors engaged throughout the experience. For a chance to win a pair of glasses every hour, you could interact with a chat-bot on Messenger. The bot then asks very specific questions on the films that are being projected in a dome next to the showroom. This experience went a little too far however when at the end the bot asked for a selfie in the showroom. Creepy.


Capital One House

Credit cards and banks wish to no longer be perceived as undifferentiated payment solutions but rather as technology companies that can help you solve challenges related to managing your money and daily life. Capital One definitely took this path with the creation of an activation that presents curated technological content in a beautiful space. In the wake of the launch of its chat-bot Eno to a selected base of clients just a few days earlier, the tech content curation in the Capital One environment seemed more relevant than ever.


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