AUSTIN, TEXAS — Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have been fixtures at SXSW for years, shelling out for spaces and scheduling a series of panels and events, while Snap has been on the sidelines. Until now.
The self-labeled camera company is going all out at SXSW for the first time. It’s a first-time sponsor and it has a dedicated space on Rainey Street and string of speaking engagements.
It also has showy brand partnerships with HBO, Warner Bros. and Amazon Studios, with its augmented reality technology behind activations including “Game of Thrones'” “Bleed For The Throne” blood donation and experiential effort.
“We love the fact that SXSW connects people across the tech, culture and business communities, and are focused on connecting with our partners and deriving inspiration from other startups here,” Jeff Miller, Snap’s global head of creative strategy, told Business Insider.
A marked difference in Snap’s approach
The last time that Snap made waves at a festival of this size was when it erected a giant yellow Ferris wheel at Cannes the summer after it went public in 2017. But everything else was largely kept under wraps, with secret meetings and a strict attendance policy enforced at its parties.
This year’s showy presence at SXSW is a marked difference for the company, which for years has been viewed as being secretive and unforthcoming. It shows the company is growing its sales organization to attract a broader base of advertisers, said Mike Dossett, VP and director of digital strategy at RPA.
Snap needs to show that it has a place in advertisers’ media budgets, as an alternative or complement to Facebook and Google and change the way it’s communicated with advertisers and the public, said Dossett.
The company has had a string of high-profile executive departures in recent months, leading it to install a new leadership team.
Snap has appointed former HuffPost CEO Jared Grusd as chief strategy officer and Jeremi Gorman, previously head of global advertising sales at Amazon, as its new chief business officer. Founder and CEO Evan Spiegel has also been more visible, speaking at Morgan Stanley’s TMT Conference and The New York Times’ “New Work Summit” last month.
“This type of thing doesn’t happen by accident, it’s clearly a part of a broader strategy coming from the top,” he said.
‘We’re driving meaningful, measured ROI’
Snap’s new attempt at openness was visible at its gathering space, which it proclaimed as open to all badgeholders to “network, interact with our activations, attend our panels and programming, join us for happy hour, and enjoy food and drinks throughout the evenings,” according to an email received by Business Insider.
“Our value proposition goes beyond the Amazons and Nikes of the world. We want to demonstrate to clients of all sizes that we are a valuable partner for them,” said Miller.
The company sees big potential in AR, and believes it is ahead of some of its rivals. It has been sharing its research on the technology and pitching marketers on its AR ad products.
It’s also been rolling out products and formats that go beyond engagement metrics and show returns on investment, such as its shoppable ads and commercials product, a six-second, un-skippable format.
“We are a platform with an increasingly engaged audience — we’re not just doing things that are novel but are driving meaningful, measured ROI,” said Miller.
Snapchat has a specific place in Amazon Studios’ marketing budget, its head of marketing Michael Benson told Business Insider in an interview at SXSW.
“The real challenge with any platform is that you have to create marketing and content that is organic to it and entertaining to the people using that platform,” he said, adding that Snapchat allows for that.