Watch Austin turn into Brand Central during SXSW

Puppies, people in banana costumes, and Game of Thrones tried to activate the crowds at South by Southwest Interactive. Did they succeed?

Every spring, South by Southwest Interactive packs thought-provoking panels and some of the smartest people around into a few square miles in downtown Austin. The festival isn’t all high-level discussions about the future of technology, though—it tends to be a predictor of tech trends to come. So it’s no wonder that the biggest brands in the world set up shop around the Austin Convention Center to lure in attendees with events that might go viral on Twitter or Instagram.

Sometimes that work pays off, like Gatorade’s first showing at the festival with its conceptual locker room, the Fuel Lab. The brand showed futuristic concepts like a smart sweat patch that will eventually lead to completely customized blends of Gatorade, plus actual products hitting the market this year.

The most over-the-top spectacle was a party hosted by Austin social media ad startup Gnack and sponsored by Del Monte. This attempt to break the world record for most people dressed as fruit succeeded (though not officially—the process to actually make it in the Guinness record books is an arduous one). Downtown Austin was filled with the run-off of banana costumed revelers for hours after the event ended, making it the most ridiculous brand presence I saw during the festival, and also the most successful.

Meanwhile Mophie cornered the market on cuteness with its #MophieRescue campaign, which raised awareness for fully charged phone batteries and St. Bernard rescue. Win-win.

Then there was HBO, which put seemingly no effort into SXSWesteros, its annual effort to hype the new season of “Game of Thrones” (does it really need more hype?). From a virtual reality experience in 2014 to iPad selfies this year…well, HBO could’ve done more.

All of this might seem totally bizarre if you’ve never been to South by Southwest, but trust me: It’s the most fun you’ll have at a tech conference.

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