SXSW is back – but not everyone came to the party…
For the first time in three years, SXSW is back in person in Austin!
The event was canceled in 2020, only a few days before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. After years of working from home and attending virtual events, expectations were bigger than ever. Big brands rolled into Austin with week-long activations. There was a hybrid presence, but virtual sessions were far less impressive than last year. If you want the real SXSW experience…you have to travel to Austin in 2023.
Here’s what stood out to us from our team boots-on-the-ground in Austin:
Where was everyone?
Congress, Rainey, and 6th Street were spread out with venue takeovers and product sampling — but the foot traffic was much lighter than expected. It was refreshing to see brands investing in activations, but the modest foot traffic says something about the readiness of consumers and employers willing to commit the energy and expense to conference travel.
“Please remember to mask up in session rooms”
Multiple email communications were distributed pre-event to ensure attendees were adhering to the SXSW COVID guidelines. However, indoor speaker sessions and panels were filled with unmasked attendees walking through conference room doors unbothered. Well, the rooms weren’t exactly “full”, but it was clear session goers were over the masking rules.
“Take a shot every time you hear Web3 or NFT at SXSW this week”
– Shira Lazar: Moderator, Future of Entertainment Panel at SXSW 2022
One…Two…Web3! There were over two dozen sessions covering the Metaverse, NFTs and blockchain technology. Swan Sit (“The Queen of Clubhouse”), Mark Cuban, Falon Fatemi (CEO, Fireside, and Ben McKenzie (Actor, The OC) were among several speakers who shared their perspectives on Web3 and the future of business and entertainment. “Get a crypto wallet — it will change all of e-commerce – it is going to change everything” – Mark Cuban.
Here is what caught our attention:
Porsche Unseen had one of the most elaborate and eye-catching installations at SXSW – rivaling Amazon Prime’s Superheroes and Superstars Experience. The immersive installation featured a sketchpad design flooring with life-sized pencils, erasers, and rolls of tape that attendees could use as seating areas. Featured outside was a one-off, fully electric Porsche Taycan 4S Cross Turismo customized by American Designer, Sean Wotherspoon. Inside was a display of Porsche cars never “seen” before. There were also musical performances each night.
The Slack Digital HQ Experience pop-up event featured an interactive prize game, photo opportunity, seating lounge with fresh coffee and snacks. It was centrally located and a nice spot to recharge while traveling to and from speaker sessions. If you were lucky, you left with a pair of Slack branded socks, a tumbler, or AirPods.
Volkswagen ID. Buzz Stop featured the all-electric ID. Buzz; Volkswagen’s new face of sustainably-minded mobility. There were several ID. Buzz vehicles driving around downtown Austin shuttling VIPs and influencers around SXSW.
Additional activations included brands like High West Whiskey, Supergoop, C4 Energy, Poland Spring (soon to be “Origin”), and more. The lounge was a melting pot of brands trying to force their products into your SXSW branded tote bag. C4 bottles were over-sampled and I can’t imagine sitting still in a speaker session after taking down 200mg of caffeine. The High West Whiskey train was the highlight of the lounge. It was an old train cart retrofitted into a bar sampling their core products and newly released ready-made cocktails…Old Fashioned, please!
Until next year…
Following a 3 year absence, it was refreshing to see SXSW back in the saddle. And as much as I enjoy not waiting in line, and having an entire row to myself – I am looking forward to stronger attendance next year.