Austin In March: SXSW Is A Big Pitch Fest With Excellent Tacos

I didn’t write about or think about SouthBy much this year. A post here a social update there. Also, I did not miss being there this year, as I have in years past when I was not in Austin soaking up the action. Perhaps, we are growing apart, SXSW and me. I can live with that.

But you will you look at what I missed? Grumpy Cat making sourpuss faces in Mashable House.

For years, the crowds at SXSW have been exploding, and from many reports the commercialization of the event is now at an all time high. For more on that, let’s hear what Nick Baumann, News Editor of Mother Jones, has to say. Jones went to SXSW “to figure out how to convince more people to read so we can sell more ads.” Fair enough. However, Baumann was so overwhelmed by messaging and pitches from the stage, and every other direction, he left Austin feeling a bit used.

SXSW is the 21st-Century equivalent of a medieval market town, just with more horseshit. It’s an orgy of capitalism, an unrestrained, unselfconscious celebration of sales, marketing, branding, and “gamification.” Even the dumbest of memes have been recruited in the service of sales. Grumpy Cat is here, and she wants you to buy Friskies.

For a gathering so driven by the pursuit of money, the question of who has it—and who doesn’t—goes almost completely unmentioned. There are talks about social and civil rights issues—feminism, race, female genital cutting—but words like “inequality” literally aren’t on the schedule.

Mother Jones is a political magazine, and a good one. But what about Baumann’s contention? Should the digerati, the marketing community, the film industry and music business, plus the conference itself, concern itself with BIG issues instead of what App is going to scratch an itch for two minutes before it fades into oblivion, or what bands will be signed to a major label this year?

If you are an AdPulp regular, you know my answer. A brand with no opinions, stances or convictions is what? A hollow shell. A statue. It’s definitely inanimate and that’s no way for a brand to be.

Also, I’d like to see SXSW offer reduced ticket prices and/or scholarships to improve access and address the diversity issue.

[UPDATE 3/16/13] Shawn has challenged me to write search-friendly headlines, so I removed “Mr. Smith Goes To Austin For Tips, Ends Up In Human Rights Battle” and replaced it with the above.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.