Pennzoil Brings Mario Kart Racing To SXSW

It’s-a me, Pennzoil!

Everyone who’s both played Mario Kart and ever been tailgated on the highway has probably wished they could drop a banana peel or fire a red shell at their fellow motorists. Sadly, however, Mario Kart is a game that can only be played on Nintendo devices–there is no glowing star in the real world that will render one’s car invincible.


Pennzoil, however, has brought the next best thing to SXSW: its version of live-action Mario Kart. Brought to life at at the Palmer Events Center in Austin by JWT Atlanta, Coyne PR, and MediaCom ESP, the experience doesn’t grant anyone invincibility or banana peels, but it does give racers the opportunity to get in go-karts, race through a track laced with power-ups that they pick up by driving over them–RFID chips on either side of the cars detect when a driver has hit the goal–and then experience a related boost of speed, edge over opponents, or other Nintendo-esque perks.

Chris Hayek, Global Brand Director at Shell, explains that, to launch the new Pennzoil Platinum product, they wanted to reach people in a different way. “It’s an innovative motor oil–it’s the first-of-its-kind motor oil made from natural gas,” he says. “So what we said was, ‘Give me a Super Bowl-like idea.'”

Judging by the increasingly snaking lines outside of the Palmer Event Center–which is a portion of SXSW that’s completely open to the general public–live-action Mario Kart is a Super Bowl-caliber hit. While Pennzoil isn’t necessarily an intuitive brand to have a major presence at SXSW, it makes sense for a few reasons: The product is one that everyone with a car can use, so opening it up to a wider-than-normal SXSW crowd with a fun concept is a good idea. And, more broadly, JWT Creative Director Jeremy Jones says that being at SXSW fits in with the idea behind Pennzoil Platinum.

“You wouldn’t expect a motor oil brand to be at South-By, but we felt like it was a great place, because we’re launching a product,” Jones says. “This is where startups come to launch new technology. We thought, ‘We have a pretty great technology story. Why can’t we be (here) too?” The snaking lines of future live-action Mario Kart drivers probably agree.


About the author

Dan Solomon lives in Austin with his wife and his dog. He's written about music for MTV and Spin, sports for Sports Illustrated, and pop culture for Vulture and the AV Club.