Most of our time at SXSW was focused on seed-stage businesses unknown to the wider world (for now). However, in and around downtown Austin, it was impossible to ignore the presence of the big brands who had taken over and decked out entire buildings, then proceeded to woo festival goers with the irresistible trinity of munchies, merch & music.
A big branded space is a useful PR tool and handy space for partner meetings - but it's worth noting that Uber did almost no marketing at all, yet won our affection with Uberpool - a smart and targeted new service. Progress does a good job of speaking for itself.
Some brands had put so much effort in however, we felt it unfair not to give them a shout out. Here are our favs.
Spotify's presence at SXSW was timed to coincide with their rebrand. Their space was in an old auto-shop in rundown East Austin, a good trek away from the shiny corporateyness of the centre. It was a smart location choice - it made Spotify House a destination, and just walking through an edgier part of town sent a strong signal about its new direction.
The rebrand has been about moving Spotify from tech to entertainment, and the new colour palette splashed all over the building felt much more vibrant and creative than its Green & Black's predecessor. Spotify has struggled to build a convincing emotional connection with its users - not such a problem in the early days because its product was so good. But as new services appear from startups and established players, it is actively deepening its relationship with the Millennial audience. Judging by the queues that snaked around the block, its plan is working. Contrast for example the much more muted Pandora Discovery Den - closer to the centre, more corporate-feeling and empty every time we went past.
Things aren't going too well for them in North America as of late, and its extensive presence at the festival seemed driven by the need for some fresh thinking. They were a major sponsor, listened to startup pitches (for the chance to pitch to the C-suite), announced a partnership with General Assembly and set-up a massive (and controversial) tent for live music and free food. It makes a lot of sense for a brand like McDonalds to engage the innovation and creativity of an event like SXSW, and also points to the fact that whatever business you're in, you need at least one foot in tech.
GE & 3M
These two massive companies were both founded at the turn of the last century, but felt totally in tune with the vibe at SXSW 2015 - smart, fun and no hint of Dad Cool. They clearly understand the need for an innovative business to connect and collaborate with the young generation, and their presence at Austin did this in spades, without compromising their history or gravitas.
We could have spent a month in NASA's showcase. Filled with 3D printers, wearable technology, rocket scientists, teachers, spacesuits, VR, big data, public and private partnership models - it was its own universe of progress.
NASA's long-term vision is a big one - to continue the existence of the human race by planning the move from Earth to another planet. But in the short-term, the thinking and innovations they create filter back down to into our everyday life (think velcro, artificial limbs, video enhancing, solar cells and more). They're also incredibly nice people. (We had a particularly great conversation when we'd misheard their partnership with "Boeing" as a partnership with "Bowie".) Our time there warrants a follow-up piece that will be hitting v3.com soon. Watch this space (zing!).