There's still well over a month to go before South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi), the yearly convergence in Austin, Tex. of tech-industry minds, the start-ups who want to be noticed by them, and the marketers who want to reach them. But like Christmas decorations appearing in stores prior to Halloween, promotional campaigns centered on the party-heavy festival are already kicking off. Really.
With in the past year or two, an increasing number of those campaigns have featured brands that have absolutely nothing to do with digital media, but who see the SXSWi crowd--the sort that likes to boast it was using Twitter or Foursquare before anyone else had heard of them--as a potential target audience.
On Thursday, old-school tea company Lipton unveiled a SXSWi-centric promotion (really) for its Brisk iced tea drink, which is targeted toward a young demographic that ordinarily prefers consuming iced tea when it's preceded by the term "Long Island" (the brand's Facebook page proudly boasts "this ain't your grandmother's tea"). The concept: In the weeks leading up to the festival, attract users to submit photos in the hopes that they might appear on cans of Brisk distributed at SXSWi.
The company has partnered with Instagram, an extraordinarily trendy mobile photo-sharing service that has taken off like a rocket for its fast user experience and array of retro camera filters that can make . The promotion, called "Briskpic," encourages Instagram users to caption their photo with the hashtag #briskpic and share it on Twitter (which is optional in Instagram). A total of 4,000 cans of Brisk emblazoned with Instagram photos will be distributed at SXSWi; one can only hope that the vast majority of them will be recycled, assuming their respective Instagrammers don't manage to hunt them down for safekeeping.
As odd as it sounds for a tea company to be heading to a gathering of energy-drink-guzzling developers, designers, and bloggers, Brisk probably knows what it's doing. Lipton's canned and bottled beverages are a joint venture with PepsiCo, which has had an unavoidable presence at SXSWi and just about every other big social-media festival for the past few years.
But for Instagram, it's all new territory. It'll be the company's inaugural SXSWi this year, and given the festival's reputation as a test bed for the latest social-media tools, many eyes will be on the start-up as it will undoubtedly experience both heavy use and heated competition from rivals like Picplz. A hashtag-based promotion is timely for Instagram, too--a Thursday update to its still-iPhone-only app that lets users aggregate photos by hashtag keywords.
For evidence of how over-the-top the SXSWi branding blitzes can get for rival companies, see last year's Foursquare vs. Gowalla smackdown.