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SXSW Marketing

SXSW 2019: politics, movies and experiential bleeds

By Dan Ortiz, Director of global strategy and innovation

Think Jam


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March 19, 2019 | 5 min read

That’s a wrap on SXSW 2019! Since launching 32 years ago, the festival has morphed into a branding and marketing Thunderdome of sorts bridging the worlds of film, tech and music and providing compelling looks into the near future and in some cases longer-term vision of the marketing and advertising trends.

SXSW logo proected on a brick wall.

Think Jam's Dan Ortiz attended this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas.

This is after-all fertile ground for marketing, innovation and re-invention, metamorphosing itself from a local music showcase with a $10 cover charge into a watershed cultural moment.

Austin becomes a crucial stop for 2020

Austin - itself a liberal enclave in the widely conservative state of Texas - has never shied away from politics as SXSW has played host to Joe Biden and Barack Obama in previous years but this year’s keynote roster looked like a whistle-stop tour of aspiring 2020 presidential candidates like Elisabeth Warren, Senator Amy Klobuchar, freshman representative and media darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (not a candidate but notable attendee, nonetheless) to ex-Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz and Beto O’Rourke showing up in and around various SXSW events.

Their presence did not go unnoticed, though. Elisabeth Warren made shockwaves in the tech industry when a highly-publicized blog post dropped just before SXSW advocating the breakup of tech monopolies with sights clearly pointed at the FAANG crowd (that being Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google).

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez - who is still only months into her newly elected position as representative entered the fray at SXSW sitting on a panel advocating for the rise of automation in the workforce while also mentioning a proposal from Bill Gates, referencing a tax on robots that replace human workers.

Last but certainly not least, Beto O’Rourke spent the week leading up to the debut of his documentary film Running with Beto shrewdly dodging requests to confirm his official candidacy for the 2020 presidential bid. However, in the final days of SXSW, all was revealed in a Vanity Fair cover story boldly declaring “I’m born to be in it.”

Either way, 2019 has shown that SXSW 2020 will now become a crucial stop on the political roadmap ahead of the November 2020 Presidential Primary and a compelling way to connect with young, liberal tech-savvy voters in a swing state.

Some films go big - and some stay home

SXSW has in previous years become a massive stage for films of all sizes from the celebrated bows of films like Spring Breakers, Neighbors, A Quiet Place, and Ready Player One. 2019 was no different though on the premiere front as filmmaker Jordan Peele unspooled his latest horror film Us - which came home from Austin sporting a 100% certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. To go along with film premieres, it has become de rigueur to also have an accompanying experiential “activation.” However, it was a bit surprising to see this year that some of the studios with the biggest upcoming IPs opted to sit out SXSW all together.

One other thing to note about the film programming this year...typically studios save their best bets as opening salvos for the first weekend of the film festival as we’ve seen in previous years with Baby Driver and Ready Player One opening within the festival’s opening weekend and this year followed suit seeing the bows of Jordan Peele’s Us, Seth Rogen’s Good Boys and Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart as part of the opening weekend wave - but it was Paramount Pictures seemingly saving the best for last by premiering Pet Sematary Saturday night as a way to close out the festival with a bang.

Premium Experiential Bleeds

Following 2018’s Premium experiential explosion in the form of Westworld’s Live Without Limits Weekend and The Ready Player One Experience - all eyes were trained on SXSW for the next ubiquitous experiential moment. This year did see HBO return in a big, bloody way in the form of Game of Thrones: Bleed for the Throne - an innovative partnership with the American Red Cross designed to use blood donation as a way to pay homage to the well-known characters who have shed blood for the titular Throne and also as a method for entry to an activation recreating key set pieces from the series and then allowing attendees to interact with costumed characters.

Dan Ortiz is global director of strategy and innovation at Think Jam

SXSW Marketing

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Think Jam

Think Jam is an award-winning specialist entertainment marketing agency, proven to deliver communications strategy, consultancy and content creation to global clients...

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