Verizon to airlift aid to SXSW-addled Austinites


Pity the poor Austinite this week: The tech and media bacchanal that is SXSW kicks off today. Last year some 55,000 attendees descended on the Texas capital (population 885,000) over the course of the week, overrunning it with  geeks, dweebs, thinkfluencers, gurus and all the attendant mayhem.

This year Verizon is coming to the aid of the poor locals who couldn’t afford to skip down during the big show. Along with agency Erwin Penland, the telecom company is launching “Austinites Unite” today, a campaign geared to help Austin’s own get through the craziness.

Verizon is asking Austinites to use the hashtag #ATXUnite to share their frustrations on social media, and tracking the responses in real-time to send relief their way. Teams based out of New York and South Carolina will also be actively monitoring social platforms and supporting the team on-ground.

The relief will come in the form of helpful products, entertaining distractions and the occasional “experience,” depending on the nature of the complaint. Verizon, for instance, will send a car to pick up a local stranded in town because all the Ubers have been claimed, or deliver coffee to a local who can’t get his daily fill because of huge lines. The campaign will continue until March 21 at various locations around town.

“We wanted to be more off-beat and relevant and zig when all the other brands zag,” Rick Haring, director of social media at Verizon, told Digiday. “We’re really striving to celebrate our customers and find genuine ways to show that we’re actually listening to them — which we may have missed the opportunity to do in the past.”

Hundreds of brands woo SXSW festival-goers annually with countless gimmicks, concerts and giveaways (see you at the Pepsi Soundboard experience, brah). Last year, AirBnb led a similar campaign in which it used real-time insights to respond to SXSW- and Airbnb-related tweets and emails from attendees. But Verizon decided to solely focus on the plight of Austinites, instead of the attendees.

“Austinites are not anyone’s focus at this time, so we want to make sure they are heard,” Haring said. “We want them to love us more, and we will be closely tracking engagement metrics and hoping it increases our brand affinity.”

Verizon is also partnering with Franklin BBQ to offer complimentary lunches to exclusively to Austinites on Monday, March 16. Locals looking for a literal free lunch should follow Verizon’s twitter handle (proof that there’s no such thing as a free meal, after all) for a chance to be a part of the group that gets to sample the fare at the restaurant, which never opens on Monday.

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