AUSTIN, Texas -- Meander through the halls of the Austin Convention Center or traverse the city's surrounding streets and you'll soon realize that nothing at South by Southwest Interactive, once the trade show of startups and geeks, is without a sponsor.
In the past few years, big, consumer-facing brands have traversed down south, and, with elaborate setups and fancy door prizes, are drowning out the little guys. This year in particular.
For instance, Oreo, the now on-trend brand that acquired a bit of social-media fame with its savvy Super Bowl tweet, is lining up attendees at a mega conference-hall kiosk because it's giving away "power shots," aka USB phone chargers.
Solis is here to promote his new book, "What's the Future of Business?" He's also co-hosting a party and blogger lounge with TechSet partner Stephanie Agresta, the global director of social media and digital for MSL Group. Solis and Agresta, both longstanding members of the blogger digerati, are straddling the very fine line between tech celebrity and brand-pusher.
Their blogger lounge, a regular fixture at SXSW, is officially known as "The Samsung TechSet Blogger Lounge." The lounge offers bloggers Wi-Fi, tables, power, food, beverages, and entertainment encased within an ornately decorated, Samsung-branded room.
Samsung has sponsored the lounge for three years running, Agresta said, and the brand mainly hopes to help attendees alleviate conference pain points. Inside the lounge, there's no mistaking Samsung logos, products, and messaging. The branding is everywhere, but the packed room of people here doesn't seem to mind Samsung's intrusion into their geeky world.
Matthew Moller, in charge of digital engagement for Samsung, should be pleased. He said the company is making the investment to passively reach influencers like Metcalfe. The brand is interested in developing relationships with bloggers and others in the digerati, he said. The Samsung blogger's lounge has been such a hit, he said, that the company has created similarly modeled lounges at other trade shows such as CES.
Samsung is also a sponsor of CNET's Lounge at Friends Bar, where branded posters, charging stations, and cocktail napkins await visitors, along with drinks.
"Things are definitely more stuntier this year," Agresta admitted. "But the audience is interested in cool, fun, and emerging tech ... and the audience will let you know when they're not interested."
Brian Zisk, executive producer of the San Francisco Tech Summit, said Oreo was one of the brands doing it wrong, though he added that "most brands are doing it wrong." Oreo's fourth-floor setup, designed to promote its new "Grab & Go" packaging, includes a green screen, with various backgrounds, for people to pose in front of and is giving patrons the aforementioned power shots. But Zisk finds Oreo's setup particularly unappealing. "It reminds me how disgusting Oreos are."
SXSW attendees wandering the halls of the Austin Convention Center have also likely seen 3M's virtual presenter, which is basically a hologram of a hot chick in a 3M tee. Everything about the projection has 3M technology, a booth representative said. Our hologrammic hottie prattles on about things no one is listening to -- they're all too busy taking pictures. Why bother?
Even American Airlines, technically the official airline of SXSW, has a kitschy nook at the convention center meant to educate the influencers here about the company's latest innovations in tech-enabled air travel. The brand's hook includes flashy cell phone charging stations you can access with a credit card, a massage station, and a big screen that displays social-media mentions of #newamerican.
The list goes on. Even the unassuming press room, where this particular story originated, is not without loud messaging. GoToMeeting apparently wants us journalists to keep its online meeting service top of mind. An obnoxiously sized banner was being put up while I was in the room. The act, which was eventually aborted, ironically required members of the media sitting in adjacent chairs to temporarily relocate to get their work done.
Brands jockeying for attention are hard to miss, but less obvious is whether they're making an impact. Attendees do seem mesmerized by bright lights and bold displays, but it's the kind of fleeting attention that fades minutes after the tweet capturing it all is posted to followers.