By Sonya Ruminski, Senior Retail Account Manager
As an experiential marketing agency, it’s part of our job to keep our finger on the pulse of culture, brand, and live experiences. So a few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to check out SXSW for a few days. After three days of soaking up art, music, exhibits and experiences of all types, we were left with an overwhelming takeaway that applies directly to our client work:
The brands that went all-in on authenticity at SXSW were the ones that connected best with audiences.
Hundreds of brands attended, and many of them were worthy of mention. But three stood out as particularly engaging and memorable. What follows are short descriptions of each experience and why we thought each one was uniquely and authentically on-brand.
From 70s London punks to 90s Seattle grunge rockers, Dr. Martens has long embodied an “alternative spirit.” At SXSW, the brand’s love of music, art, and free-thinking was on display in an in-your-face kind of way. The brand set up shop at the Container Bar (21+) and hosted a steady stream of live music, pieces of DIY Dr. Martens shoe art, an interactive mural where attendees could leave their mark, free drinks and free tattoos. (Yep. Free drinks and free tattoos, under the same roof.)
In our opinion, the space served as a sort of cultural mixing pot — drawing on elements of hip hop, art, rock, world music, and diversity of identities. In an ocean of diversity and inclusion messages that all seem pretty uptight and non-fun, Dr. Martens managed to be diverse and inclusive without watering down their aggressive, artistic, no-holds-barred attitude.
The presentation showed that Dr. Martens has their finger on the pulse of culture, but in a way that felt authentic and on-brand.
The Porsche Unseen space invited guests to experience “Music that has never been heard. Stories that have never been told. Designs that have never been seen.” The temporary event space was constructed in a parking lot, and the space felt much like something you’d encounter at an auto show. The space was designed to emulate a creative’s work environment. The exterior of the pop-up featured line sketches on ruled “graph paper.” The interior featured larger-than-life pencils, markers, erasers and coffee mugs … everything a creative person could need.
The way that the brand framed its story separated Porsche Unseen from other SXSW experiences. As we at EWI can attest, the creative process always involves a lot of ideas — and many of them don’t make the “final cut.” Any kind of art or design means creating a LOT of possible outcomes and then seeing what sticks. For a variety of reasons, sometimes even cool ideas don’t ever see the light of day.
As a design-forward company, the ideas behind “Unseen” are true to Porsche’s DNA. But they also resonate with the young creatives of SXSW — many of whom haven’t found runaway success in their creative pursuits (yet), but who still work tirelessly to bring design, music and art into the world. From NFTs to gaming, Porsche used this event to connect with younger customers and emphasize that their brand has a lot in common with the next generation of creatives. Well done, Stuttgart.
Slack Digital HQ Experience
Everyone’s favorite work messaging service created an interactive pop-up experience that provided attendees with a perfect spot to catch up on work emails and have fun at the same time. Branded as the space where “work and play go hand in hand,” Slack’s Digital HQube featured:
- Free Wi-Fi
- Work From Anywhere lounge
- Pop-Up Coffee Shop
- Easy-to-navigate (just like their app UI)
- Profile picture photo ops (for use in their app)
For today’s workforce (who expect to be able to work when and how they want), the space was perfectly on-brand. Slack has changed the way that teams get things done — by moving work and collaboration into a seamless digital realm. To further blur the lines between physical and online, now the digital native brand provided a live, physical engagement in the real world. And (in true Slack fashion) the space was truly for everyone. The experience was open to even non-SXSW badge holders (although badge holders did get expedited access), reinforcing that the new way of work ushered in by online collaboration tools like Slack, is for everyone.
At EWI, we’ve long preached the importance of creating experiences that are unique to and ownable by brands. (For example, one publication called the Subaru auto show booth we built a few years ago “the most Subaru thing we’ve ever seen.”) If your brand experience could be easily used by another company by simply swapping out logos or colors, design hasn’t been pushed far enough. Be authentic. Be yourself. And reap the benefits of an engaged audience.