SXSW 2014: Word of mouth, great brand activations and cats

Another South by Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSWi) has come and gone, with great takeaways we’ll be discussing for months to come. Though SXSW started in 1987, it’s only in the past 6 years — since an “Interactive” component was added to the pre-existing “Music” and “Film” festivals — that it has truly become a destination for modern cultural pilgrimage. House Party has consistently appeared on the scene, always finding SXSW to be a wonderful place to learn, expand our business horizons, foster new ideas and network with forward thinkers in our industry.

In the past, SXSWi has been primarily a place for startups and new apps to shine, but this year household brands went big with their activations. Pennzoil, for instance, set up a life-size Mario Kart experience at the Palmer Events Center. Oreo made Twitter-personalized cookies for attendees in real time, and Chevy’s 60 Catch-a-Chevy cars gave attendees free rides downtown. TV shows got into the fun, too: Late Night with Seth Meyers offered free Shake Shack burgers and fries every night, free bike rentals all week, an engaging panel session and a fun opening party (where Seth spent a good bit of his evening). HBO’s Game of Thrones, meanwhile, offered free pedicab rides around town and partnered with Oculus Rift to host a huge virtual-reality experience.

Mashable, the tech and social media-news website, was a big player at SXSW (as usual), bringing the Internet to life at their Mashable House. Visitors to the house could meet Grumpy Cat, swing on a wrecking ball (a lá Miley Cyrus) and win #PricelessSurprises from Mastercard.

Strategic-consulting and professional-services firm Deloitte made a splash with a large-scale sponsorship,  featuring dynamic interactive displays, several hosted events, numerous panel appearances and even 3D printing. Their popular 3D-printing truck, along with a host of others at SXSW, showcased coffee maker-sized machines that produce plastic figurines of all shapes and sizes (as well as geometric candies — to our sweet-tooth’s delight!)

Beyond the razzle-dazzle of corporate sponsorships, there was a lot of marketing content to absorb. Perhaps, not surprisingly, we were especially glad to witness the focus on the power of word of mouth — which House Party (and many others) trumpet year-round. Wharton professor and author Jonah Berger led a session, ‘What Drives Word of Mouth?’, where he reminded the crowd that despite all of the buzz around social media, only 7% of word-of-mouth sharing happens online. At a conference driven by cutting-edge technology and new ideas, Jonah’s emphasis on the importance of offline word of mouth was refreshing, giving attendees a lot to think about.

As we wrap our heads around all we heard and saw in Austin, a few consistent messages rise to the top: think outside of the box, be authentic with your marketing and don’t be afraid to fail. And while you’re at it, don’t forget the incredible power of word of mouth and advocacy.