Four brands you didn’t expect to see at SXSW this year


Just because your brand wants to be at SXSW, doesn’t mean your brand should be at SXSW. There are plenty of opportunities for on-brand showmanship, sure: Mophie swept through downtown with St. Bernards toting power chargers; Berocca delivered vitamin coupons to tired attendees who mangled the #SXSW hashtag.

But there are just as many companies here that seem a little tone-deaf amid all the cacophony. Any and every brand with even the most tenuous link to technology seemed to be hocking its wares, some more awkwardly than others. “It’s a case of brands looking for opportunities to connect to an audience as opposed to having a direct connection to technology,” said one agency chief creative.

Here are a couple of standouts.

Scotch Tape and more
It feels like 3M is inescapable this year. The company launched a global brand campaign this week that focuses on the innovative science beyond prosaic products like tape and Post-it Notes. “Life with 3M” is centered around a 3M booth built entirely out of materials the company has invented, and will feature events like a DJ transmitting her heartbeats using a stethoscope the company created.

The company’s Scotch Tape brand in particular is drawing plenty of raised eyebrows. “Why are they coming up to me and putting sticky tape on my clothes?” asked one especially well-dressed entrepreneur. Turns out the brand is literally reaching out to a younger demographic to prove the place is a cool employer worth paying attention to.

“3M is looking to show a new generation of science lovers the breadth and depth of the company and how 3M science is solving problems every day and improving the world around them,” said a spokesperson.

Don’t call it a window cleaner. The glass-cleaning company is on hand to “clean phones and devices” all over Austin. It’s looking to draw attention away from its glass-cleaner product to its electronic Wipe & Go line which is for cell phones and tablets. The brand said it cleaned 1,400 devices over four hours on the first day alone. It’s also inviting attendees to take an “official selfie” on a grime and streak-free selfie mirror. Touting “the clearest selfies” possible, the brand took about about 400 snaps in just five hours.

While it seems to be successful, industry observers are less impressed. One, an Austin native who works at a digital agency said: “They’re socially awkward. They don’t know how to be relevant in today’s conversation, and they think they will find the answer here.”

It’s not the first time Philip Morris has been to SXSW, but that doesn’t make its visit any less mysterious. The brand is trying to appeal to a group of techie nerds who are on the younger side, a demographic among which smoking rates are declining heavily. The pitch is going largely unanswered: There are no lines at the so-called Black Lounge, where Philip Morris has set up shop. And when there were lines, they were mostly made up of non-SXSW attendees. Many were homeless people who were drawn by the prospect of cheap smokes.

Think Mazda, and you don’t necessarily think cutting-edge tech. But the brand edged out Chevy to become one of SXSW’s “Super Sponsors” this year — the highest level of brand sponsorship at the festival. The Japanese automaker is giving out free rides and has a partnership with Pandora for a “Mazda SXSW station.” It is also sponsoring a lounge for attendees to charge phones and get some work done.

“Their cars are as unfuture-y as they come,” said one agency creative director who was surprised to see them here. The activation hasn’t been getting much traction online, either — it’s the first year that Uber is officially up and running in Austin, so most attendees are using that.

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