Back to basics at SXSW : Engaging with consumers on the sidewalk

By March 22, 2011
GE Solar carousel

Interactive advertising, real-time marketing, in-game marketing... Brands are indulging in a serious battle over the title of "Most innovative marketing strategist". Recently, we've seen a lot of brands trying to engage with consumers online, by being present in the virtual world. Well, there was a strong trend this year at SXSW, of brands actually coming back to the real world... The streets of Austin were full of alternative street marketing pieces displaying the names of the biggest brands.

It isn’t completely new to use street art as a marketing tool. Even Walt Disney – the symbol of capitalism and mainstream culture – has been asking street artists to tag some walls for them. But street art was a must at this year's SXSW, and CNN was definitely all over Austin’s streets. They had some graffiti artists from Austin make a huge graffiti saying “CNN @ SXSW”. They also had projectors displaying random images on a brick wall nearby, creating a digital ephemeral CNN wall. A similar piece that was a little more complex was General Eletric’s solar-powered carousel that what sitting a few blocks away from the Austin Convention Center. GE has fetched an old carousel from 1926 that they entirely renovated to make it a solar powered carousel for SXSW attendees. The brand used new technologies to deliver a whole experience to consumers instead of a regular add. Just like for CNN, this piece was very immersive and it was a one-shot experience for lucky SXSW attendees.

Digital street art shares some interesting similarities with online marketing tools: it offers immersive, interactive and real-time experiences. Except instead of being virtual, it's actually real. The main difference between street marketing and online marketing is of course, the reach. You can reach a very limited amount of people through street marketintg. but that's actually the whole point - you’re not targeting a very wide audience, just a group of happy few who are then going to relay it online. 

The last interesting and actually the most disruptive piece worth noting at SXSW wasn’t explicitly street marketing. If you wandered in the streets of Austin at night, you might have been lucky enough to see this French gamer playing Angry Birds on a car, a wall or any random surface… Don’t get this wrong, he was playing Angry Birds on his Nokia cell phone. But he had a backpack in which he was carrying a portable projector he built himself. The projector could  project his cell phone's screen on any surface. “ I don’t need traditional screens, I’m going beyond the screen”, he said. “I can play Angry Birds on a door, on the sidewalk or anywhere I want."

This young engineer might have looked like a random mobile gamer. But he actually gathered about 20 people around him who just watched him play Angry Birds and kept asking questions about his projector. Obviously, he can only reach a limited number of people. But each person who stops to watch him play, actually stops for several minutes. When you know that 4 seconds is the average time people spend on a classic poster ad in the street, you realize how valuable an alternative brand ambassador like him can be. He can talk comsumers through your product without them even noticing it actually is marketing! Although when asked, the French gamer wouldn't explicitly say he was doing street marketing for either Angry Birds or Nokia, he did admit he was about to be hired by one of them. 

Street marketing might not be a new concept. But while some brands try to engage with consumers in innovative ways through digital tools, other brands also go back to basics and use the street as a creative environment for immersive and interative marketing campaigns. 

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