SXSW Imposes a No-Drone Policy at the 11th Hour

Robot-flying marketers now have to switch gears

Marketers that were hoping to wow South by Southwest goers with drone-based activations got sobering news Wednesday night, less than two days before the festival. The Austin, Texas-based technology and marketing conference announced a no-drone policy on its website, citing a city ordinance

"This policy was established after consultation with drone experts, user groups, municipal authorities and aviation safety experts," read a SXSW statement. "While SXSW may make exceptions to this policy if the drones are used within certain trade show areas where safety measures such as tethering to the ground are implemented, the airwaves and/or frequency spectrums generally used in the remote control of drones are too congested during the SXSW event to ensure operation safe from interference."

The news will likely disrupt more than a few marketers' plans for the next five days. SXSW typically entails huge branded activations where fancy tech is at the center of attention.

For instance, in 2013, Vice used drones to drum up buzz with its "Oblivion Drone Day." And the digital agency Magnetic two months ago was planning to combine Oculus Rift with remote-control drones for passersby to engage with. 

"Imagine seeing a drone 700 feet over your head, and you control where it goes," Brian Schultz, partner at New York-based Magnetic, said in January.

Well, it looks like that won't be happening. It's too bad, since South by can be a breeding ground for innovative ways to create mobile-social chatter, and drones seem ripe for the challenge.

Last year at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, San Francisco-based Twitter launched its @Dronie account on Vine and posted airborne "Dronie" video selfies of ad execs (and Star Trek star Patrick Stewart). The activation appeared to be a social media hit among folks who couldn't attend the festivities in southern France. 

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