From Showtime to Slack, SXSW Draws Major Advertisers. Here’s Why

The festival reaches a unique cross-section of people in a tactile way, marketers say

Driving relevance means driving growth. Join global brands and industry thought leaders at Brandweek, Sept. 11–14 in Miami, for actionable takeaways to better your marketing. 50% off passes ends April 10.

South By Southwest has effectively taken over the streets of Austin, Texas.

With brand activations spilling out of bars, restaurants, parking lots and venues, and hundreds of celebrated founders, marketers and tech savants speaking on panels in and around the city’s downtown hotels and convention center, the excited buzz of the festival is palpable throughout the city.

Major advertisers have descended upon the city in tandem with SXSW, both as festival sponsors and as participants. C4 Energy, Itaú Bank, Porsche, Showtime, Slack, Volkswagen, White Claw are the event’s major sponsors, with differing levels and formats of brand presence throughout the festival.

Dozens of other brands are involved in different capacities, from simply paying to have an SXSW-branded series of events, contributing to panel discussions or sponsoring specific portions of the festival, like music, film or comedy.

Marketers told Adweek that the festival’s cross-section of attendees—ranging from music and comedy to film and emerging tech—offers a unique proposition for brand sponsors.

“South By is just a big, broad, cultural, innovative tent,” Puja Vohra, evp of brand marketing and strategy for Showtime, told Adweek. “You just have to be there.”

Showtime shows up again

In addition to its status as a super sponsor for SXSW, Showtime also sponsors the SXSW Go app. Each time attendees open the app, they see an ad for Showtime’s brand activation centered on the thriller/horror series Yellowjackets, which is open to the public on March 11 and 12. The brand’s logo is also on half of SXSW’s iconic tote bags—HBO Max has its logo on the other half of the branded inventory.

Showtime declined to share how much it paid for its sponsorship deal, citing competitive reasons.

While attendance numbers won’t be finalized and available until after SXSW wraps, Peter Lewis, chief partnerships officer for the event, told Adweek that it expects this year to be “on par” with the kind of participation they saw prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Partnership prices for 2023 were higher than last year, when Covid-related uncertainty kept prices a bit lower, noted Micky Ogando, CEO and chief creative officer at Austin-based indie agency Bakery. Last year, Bakery client and Texas-based beer brand Shiner was the official craft beer sponsor of the festival. This year, the brewer’s diverting those funds to other partnerships, Ogando said—in part due to the increased cost of sponsoring SXSW.

Bringing Slack to life

Slack, another SXSW super sponsor, is bringing its own immersive experience to the Texas capital this year. While the communication platform also activated at SXSW last year, its 2023 presence has a much bigger footprint and a broader mission—to show folks that Slack can do a lot more than just send messages to your colleagues.

“We have an enterprise audience, which is more of those software decision makers, C-suite individuals, and then we have our self-serve audience, which are team influencers and general population,” Colin McRae, head of brand and creative at Slack, told Adweek.

An attendee interacts with Slack’s SXSW activation in 2022.SXSW

The activation itself, which sits along Congress Avenue in downtown Austin between March 11-14, brings to life some of Slack’s newer and lesser known features. That includes things like automating rote tasks or connecting via huddles and clips, McRae explained.

Celebrating 50 years

For Patagonia, bringing the brand to Austin served a different purpose. The company today launched its 50th anniversary campaign, coinciding with the first day of SXSW.

The campaign focuses on “activism, conscious consumption and connection” as a way of “connecting people to action and helping meaningfully change people’s behavior,” explained Aileen Ottenweller, head of brand and business impact at Patagonia.

“To kick off at South By, we planned a series of events that help catalyze that for the Austin community,” she said. That includes hosting runs, happy hours and trail cleanups as well as providing spaces for grassroots environmental groups like PODER, Urban Roots and Austin Youth River Watch to connect with people. Patagonia’s repair truck will also be available to help people keep their gear in play for longer.

The company paid a fee of around $5,000 to co-brand its SXSW-related programming and to ensure that its events are available to attendees via SXSW’s online and in-app schedule, Ottenweller said. While it’s not an official sponsor, Patagonia’s CEO Ryan Gellert will be onstage with Katie Couric for a keynote on March 12.

Enjoying Adweek's Content? Register for More Access!