The $1 Million Buy-In: Blue Chip Brands Flock to SXSW

The famous (or infamous?) Doritos vending machine makes its return to SXSW, while Lady Gaga will perform as part of the chip maker's Bold Missions program.

BRAND MANAGER: Jon Molod, DirecTV vp digital ideation
BRAND PLANS: For its latest trip to SXSW Interactive, DirecTV and Filter magazine are teaming for DirecTV Socials, a trio of daytime and evening events that will highlight some of DirecTV’s own technologies (using the hashtag #transformTV) and the newest names in music at The Clive Bar on Davis Street. March 8 will host Innovative Leisure’s Tropics, De Lux, BadBadNotGood and Nosaj Thing, while March 9 will feature a special performance from Aloe Blacc alongside Wardell and Asegir.
WHY IT WILL STAND OUT: As music becomes a bigger part of SXSW Interactive, DirecTV will be one of the few brands to heavily merge the two as the conference gets underway. Plus, hosting the week’s first performance from the white-hot Blacc (“Wake Me Up!,” “The Man”) is an added perk.
BRAND MANAGER: Will Bortz, Taco Bell director of brand partnerships
BRAND PLANS: The Hype Hotel is back for its third year at SXSW, powered by Feed the Beat and Hype Machine. Taco Bell has made the venue a priority for its biggest product launches of the last few years, including Tacos Locos in 2012 and their Cool Ranch counterpart in 2013. Now located on E. Seventh Street near Red River, the Hype Hotel will once again host an impossibly cool lineup of extra-now acts like Future Islands, Tinashe, SZA, Against Me!, Jessy Lanza, Chloe Howl and Jarvis Cocker’s Desperate Sound System. The lineups were once again booked by Hype Machine’s network of blogs including Consequence of Sound, Disco Naivete and Gorilla Vs Bear.
WHY IT WILL STAND OUT: Rumor has it Taco Bell will premiere its Waffle Taco, not officially on the menu until March 27, at the Hype Hotel. With Subway also set to premiere a new item at its own showcases, SXSW has become the biggest and most unlikely destination for fast-food launches.
BRAND MANAGER: Amy Curtis McIntyre, Airbnb chief marketing officer
BRAND PLANS: For several years now, Airbnb has had one of the largest unofficial presences at SXSW as many attendees’ preferred the housing service in light of scarce hotel rooms. So to formalize its relationship with the SXSW community this year, Airbnb is sponsoring its own house during the Music portion of SXSW — called Airbnb Park — that will feature custom hospitality experiences designed by Snoop Dogg, Capital Cities and Allen Stone. Created in partnership with Capitol Records and The Cashmere Agency, the pop-up installations will include artist-curated programming for every daypart, from morning “Hang Time” (organic coffee and fresh juices) to “Rise + Relax” (meditation and yoga) to food from local chefs at the “Hangover Haven.”
WHY IT WILL STAND OUT: By hosting some of the most intimate showcases of the week — sometimes with a capacity limited only to the houses’ guests (selected through Instagram and the hashtag #airbnbmusic) and a few friends. “Airbnb has been built off word-of-mouth for years, so it’s really important for us to be in front of this high-travel, high-influence crowd,” says chief marketing officer Amy Curtis McIntyre. “Unlike other cool brands or products that try to break down there, the product we sell is already part of the South By experience.”
BRAND MANAGER: Javier Farfan, PepsiCo senior director of cultural branding
BRAND PLANS: Pepsi’s logo may not be among the brands on the list of SXSW’s platinum sponsors for the first time in years, but the beverage behemoth is prepping its biggest marketing blitz yet across four brands — Brisk, Aquafina Flavor Splash, Mountain Dew and Pepsi, each of which will shine a spotlight on emerging artists. Brisk is teaming with Vice and Noisey for the fourth year of its Brisk Bodega platform, including a special performance from producer-of-the-moment DJ Mustard. Flavor Splash is partnering with High School Nation to create a new teen-centered art platform, featuring talent such as Taboo from The Black Eyed Peas. Mountain Dew’s Green Label Sound will host musical performances and skate sessions on March 12. And Pepsi will have a major presence at the mtvU Woodies as the presenting sponsor of the MTV Artists Stage, where rising acts like The 1975 will perform.
WHY IT WILL STAND OUT: PepsiCo is going wider — and more micro-targeted — than its most mass-market events from years past, which have included a concert and live commercial with Lil Wayne. “We moved away from the idea of platinum, bronze, whatever and customized our sponsorship due to our needs,” says PepsiCo senior director of cultural branding Javier Farfan. “It cuts through Music, Interactive, Film and goes deep into certain places that we need to be and what products we want to put out into the marketplace.”
BRAND PLANS: Mophie, a rechargeable battery case for cellphones, is going Hard at the Yard. For the second year, Mophie is creating a “Space Station” with Live Nation, presenting two nights of indie-rock and dance showcases programmed by Live Nation Labs and EDM promoter Hard Presents, respectively, at popular venue The Yard on East Fifth Street on March 13 and 14.
WHY IT WILL STAND OUT: After a long day of showcases, who won’t need a freshly juiced-up phone? A topical lineup should help, too — 2013 shined an early spotlight on Capital Cities, The Neighbourhood and Willy Moon, and this year’s bill is expected to be equally prescient.
BRAND MANAGER: Aimee Cronfel, Pennzoil marketing manager
BRAND PLANS: Pennzoil was aware of its challenges as a first-time sponsor at an already crowded conference, especially when promoting a product as un-sexy as motor oil. So to best showcase its Pennzoil Platinum full-synthetic motor oil, which feature the sustainable Pure Plus Technology, Pennzoil will present Mario Karting Reimagined — a partnership with Nintendo that will also promote the new Mario Kart 8 for Wii U during SXSW Interactive. Between March 7 and 10, Pennzoil and Nintendo will bring a real-life version of the famous video game to the Palmer Events Center, complete with life-sized power-ups modeled after the classic game (think tortoise shells and mushroom heads.)
WHY IT WILL STAND OUT: Not only is the ambitious re-creation of Mario Kart an unprecedented real-life stunt for Nintendo, the activation will be broadcast through Jumbotron, and on social media using the hashtag #motoroilreimagined. Pennzoil’s global brand manager Chris Hayek says the program aims to “push the boundaries of innovation and imagination.”
BRAND MANAGER: Joe Armenia, Rdio head of artist and label relations
BRAND PLANS: Rdio is stepping up its commitments to several of the acts on its returning “Rdio Sessions” showcase, opting to make performers NONONO, Haerts, Tensnake and Strange Talk official artists to watch for 2014. “We are making a commitment to support their rise — offering marketing, PR and social media support to each artist throughout the year,” says Rdio head of artist and label relations Joe Armenia, “including support around new release, tours, performances and events.” Other “Sessions” performers this year, set for March 12-14 at the Driskill, include Lucius, Ty Dolla $ign, Belle Brigade, David Nail and Bad Suns.
WHY IT WILL STAND OUT: In a highly competitive year for streaming music at SXSW, Rdio sticking to what it does best — exposing listeners to new music — in arguably the most-trafficked hotel in downtown Austin (outside of the Hilton) is a smart move.
BRAND MANAGER: Russell Wager, Mazda vp U.S. marketing
BRAND PLANS: For its first year as the Fader Fort’s automotive partner — not to mention inaugural jaunt to SXSW — Mazda will help create original content on-site that will live on as part of a yearlong media buy across Fader properties. The Japanese automaker has been dipping its toes in music in recent months, following a 2012 shuffling of its senior marketing ranks, including licensing Capital Cities’ “Safe and Sound” for a highly visible commercial that aired during the Super Bowl as well as a June 2013 partnership with Canadian alt-rock band Metric and Xbox Live. “Our target consumer is already heading to the Fader Fort, and this was a great time to reach them and enhance their time in Austin,” says Mazda vp U.S. marketing Russell Wager. “We want to create credible and memorable experiences with music, and being part of the Fader Fort should help us achieve that.”
WHY IT WILL STAND OUT:Mazda will further enhance Fort-goers’ experience by providing free shuttles to and from the venue in the latest Mazda3, Mazda6 and CX-5 models, with door-to-door access to a Fort lineup that includes first-time performers like FKA Twigs, The Orwells, Jeremih and Isaiah Rishad.

BRAND MANAGER: Ketel One Vodka brand manager Ed Bello
BRAND PLANS: Fresh from a trip to Miami's Art Basel festival, De Nolet presented by Ketel One is heading to Austin for SXSW Interactive on March 7 and 8 for two days of events and showcases, curated by Cantora Records. Saturday night's closing headliner will be Caveman. Mixologist Jason Stevens will be whipping up Ketel One-crafted cocktails, inspired by the De Nolet family, which has been distilling spirits for over 300 years across 10 generations.
WHY IT WILL STAND OUT: Indie bands that normally dominate SXSW during Music are getting a chance to shine during Interactive, too, thanks to brands like Ketel One, which will take over Twin Liquors on E. 7th Street for two days. "The De Nolet experiential space was created to bring to life the rich history and craftsmanship of Ketel One from the brand's inception to its place in today's modern culture," said Ed Bello, Brand Director of Ketel One Vodka.