If there’s one trend that was commonly observed at this year’s SXSW it was this: the conference has officially become a massive commercial experience. Attendees paid $500 to $1,000+ to get bombarded 24/7 with commercials. Yet in contrast to previous years where under-the-radar startups where able to breakout, this year was about the breakout of massive corporations (Nike, Amex, etc) among the early-adopter community.
Let me share one experience that completely boggled my mind. Walking around the conference one day I bumped into Ben Parr, ex-Mashable editor, while heading to grab lunch with Boonsri Dickinson of Business Insider. He informed us that he was headed over to pick up a free Nike+ Fuelband and we decided to tag along. When we arrived at the shop that Nike had set up for the conference, we were escorted in by some marketing or communications director who helped us bypass the line.
Yes, you heard that right: there was a line to get into this Nike shop. This was a line of people who were actually waiting to purchase a Nike+ Fuelband or a pair of Nike 3 shoes, not get a free product promotion. Nike had apparently surfaced its inner Apple and now had a line of customers waiting to get their hands on the latest gadget. This is at a conference where you can pretty much get by without paying for food or drinks for an entire week.
I hadn’t realized how successfully Nike marketed to this audience until I saw the line. After walking in and seeing the line I wasn’t sure what to expect but I soon began chatting with Dennis Crowley, CEO of Foursquare, who was raving about his various nike products. He had both Nike shoes and a Nike+ Fuelband, and then received an interview by Boonsri during which he discusses the Fuelband product.
I walked out of the Nike shop wondering what had just happened. I felt like a corporate whore, even though I hadn’t purchased any product. For a moment I even felt like I had to purchase shoes or a Fuelband. Then when I saw an interview of Dave Morin talking about his company’s Nike integration, I suddenly realized this was all part of a master marketing plan and that a new mentality had taken hold: sell out with us!
Attendees of SXSW accepted the offer and we are once again corporate puppets. Either your strategizing a way to sell out, actively selling yourself to the big guys, or you’re buying or using the companies that have accepted to embrace our corporate overlords.