Food For Thought: Strange Marketing Techniques At SXSW Help Keep Austin Weird

At SXSW Interactive, there are dozens of panels, sessions, workshops, demonstrations and speeches to choose from. For this week only, even the local restaurants and bars surrounding the convention center are revamping their interiors to make space for on-site programming events.

Downtown Austin has truly turned into a tech town. For badge holders and other visitors, the opportunities to network and learn about the latest gadgets are endless.

Exhibitors are taking creative measures to rally for the attention of nearly 20,000 festival-goers who are expected to flood the capitol city’s streets this week. Some are handing out free gift cards, t-shirts and food. Others are donning costumes (ever see a man in a fairy costume playing the ukulele?), and several are hosting parties with celebrity appearances.

Some marketing tactics – like the one taken by TriNet, a Rackspace partner – are just plain weird.

TriNet is a California-based business that works with small companies to provide human resources, payroll and human capital services. The company currently works with Rackspace to provide sponsorships and mentorships for startups. Paul Park, a consultant with TriNet, said the two companies have previously hosted luncheons with thought leaders who can provide growth strategies for budding entrepreneurs.

This year, TriNet’s theme of choice to attract the SXSW crowd is none other than yams… like the vegetable. TriNet is marketing itself as a fake company called, and the façade has been successful at standing out amongst the crowd.

The concept is so ridiculous that people browsing exhibits in the Austin Convention Center can’t help but stop to ask questions.

There, the company has taken shelter inside an oversized, realistic-looking yam (think the size of two stacked automobiles), which is actually an exhibit showcasing TriNet. Rupert, a walking and talking yam who is actually a man in costume, is quick to grab the attention of passerbys.

Park also said that people who bring a yam for donation will receive a $50 American Express gift card. It’s a quirky marketing strategy, but also very effective because it’s got people talking. (I know that I’ll be returning tomorrow, yam in hand.)

It’s challenging to stand out at SXSW Interactive when hundreds of vendors are clamoring for the public’s attention; but perhaps that’s the beauty of exhibits like TriNet’s: they help Keep Austin Weird.

Leezia Dhalla was the Speakers Bureau Program Manager at Rackspace until 2015, where she was responsible for coordinating external speaking engagements and developing corporate messaging for senior leadership, software developers and key subject matter experts. graduated from Northwestern University with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science.



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