From the moment that you step off the plane at Austin's Bergstrom Field, you're literally immersed in groups of people trying to out-clever one another for your attention, no matter who you are or, in the case of the legions of social network "gurus," pretend to be. But people don't attend SXSW for the free food, free booze, mountains of swag, shuttle rides, free concerts and free movies (after the admission fee, of course) because, according to the brochure and the myth spread by the veterans, the show is really not about Marketing, but about Networking and Learning. As a matter of fact, marketing is equated with douchebaggery.
One look at the program book reveals this bias; marketing haters are drawn to events like "Help Save SXSW from Marketer Douchebaggery," described as, "Is SXSW in danger of being ruined by the influx of marketers to the conference?" This conversation was apparently stirred up by a famous Jolie O'Dell post: "WHY SXSW SUCKS," which complained "non-technical people aren't here to learn; they're here for self-congratulation and mutual masturbation." There is a short video that just surfaced spelling out the vitriol the veteran attendees feel towards the hoards of invading douchebags that propelled their regional music festival into an international success. And who wouldn't hate anyone that done them wrong like that!
The necessity of marketing films, music and the interactive/digital world couldn't be clearer. Without customers, these efforts would have a fairly limited payoff beyond satisfaction. From the movie posters lining the walls to the vendor exhibitions and panels dedicated to figuring out how things work and who's going to pay for them, it seems that anyone producing anything is also wearing a marketer's hat.
In the course of attending nearly 20 panels ranging from Seth Priebatsch discussing how he'd reform pre-school to "Viral Marketing with the Oatmeal," I didn't encounter a single instance of not being marketed to. I must have heard "I remember when this show was only 400 people," from a good 200 people; so at least half of the original attendees felt it was worth their time and money, despite the douchebaggery.
If you recall the movie "Dr. Strangelove," Peter Sellers' Lionel Mandrake character solved the recall code puzzle by deciphering the cryptic phrase "Purity of Essence." And this is what has the veteran SXSWers all up in saddle sores. The douchebags done poisoned their pure water hole, and now everyone's drinking the new Kool Aid! It's the same mentality that keeps advertising agencies fractured: the creative's hate the suits. But in the case of SXSW, the creatives are the suits; they just won't admit it. In short, everyone at SXSW is a marketing douchebag, veterans included: they're selling the story of the past.
An organization like Business Marketing Association, presumably comprised of professional marketing douchebags, is lucky to get self-proclaimed marketers excited about their programming; imagine the validation they'd feel from the kind of attention that SXSW takes for granted! It may be time for SXSW to add the dreaded M to its acronym because if there's one underlying message to the event, it's that everything in the world needs to git sum marketing.
I didn't realize that the title of my own panel, "Interactive Marketing Horror Stories," actually had a second meaning; for in the eyes of the veterans, myself and 49,600 other people who have helped grow the event from 400 to 50,000 were, like brain-eating zombies from Dawn of the Dead, their Marketing Horror story come to life. Mangia, mangia.