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Ambush Marketers, Swag Suites & HP at Sundance

The North Face and Lexus present The Ice Lounge, a hospitality lounge built to bring together celebrities, filmmakers, media and the environmental community. (PRNewsFoto/The Ice Lounge)


ice lounge at sundance

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The North Face and Lexus present The Ice Lounge, a hospitality lounge built to bring together celebrities, filmmakers, media and the environmental community. (PRNewsFoto/The Ice Lounge)

Though one usually thinks movie marketing when considering the Sundance Film Festival, this time around I kept an eye on the marketing being done towards attendees. Sundance draws a rich variety of celebs, entertainment industry players, trend setters and media folks making the event a real dream for brand marketers, many of whom participate in the action without an official relationship with the Festival via lounges, swag suites and nightclubs.

Such add-ons have led to the coining of the moniker “Brand-dance” and comments from Robert Redford in ’06 that all this additional activity sometimes “blurred what we are doing” as folks arrived with “agendas that were not the same as ours.” Of course, Sundance offers a variety of well-placed marketing opportunities to its sponsors and supporters and the Sundance Channel has its own swag giveaway for a select few featuring offerings from their promotional partners.

One company whose marketing is officially and deeply intertwined with Sundance is HP who worked closely with Sundance on a variety of projects including “mini-films” made with HP gear to air on the Sundance Channel and elsewhere, a photo essay contest at the Sundance Channel site, a Backstage at Sundance blog and other activities

Though much of HP’s brand marketing has a populist reach, Sundance is an elite setting, despite their outsider claims, and the opportunity to reach celebs has resulted in a wide range of giveaways, lounges and events. A core feature of marketing via celebs is the giftbag, which has seen downsizing due to IRS scrutiny, but lives on to ensure that the “ambush marketers” about which Redford lament are able to provide the famous and their friends with items mostly costing less than $600 to avoid record keeping.

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One of the folks from Treehugger visited Sundance and explored the growing range of ecomarketing offerings from the Sundance Channel’s green goody bag to the North Face/Lexus Ice Lounge pictured above. The ecomarketing trend is a nice one for brand marketers who can add social responsibility to the accomplishments of a Sundance outing.

For more celeb and swag centered action, imeem’s cobranded Sundance site offers photos and videos from celebrity events and performances as well as blog posts about the nonfilm events attended in one night, their favorite swag suites and a rundown of celebrities introduced to Tahitea at Sundance.

Such examples merely scratch the surface of marketing to attendees at Sundance, whether related to film or leveraging celebrity, and make Redford’s chagrin at the swirl of events surrounding his cinematic kingdom quite understandable. From a distance, one gets a sense of a scene so packed with parties and products that one could have a great Sundance experience without ever seeing any films.

Nevertheless, I’m struck by two observations. If one took away the films, the nonfilm marketing would collapse and I think that’s important to remember.

In considering what’s actually innovative, I find that it’s the web extension of activities at Sundance that are breaking new ground in branding, rather than the event marketing itself. And I’m most impressed not by indie web activities but by HP’s work with Sundance, an outcome I did not expect two weeks ago.

On that note, I’ve strongly criticized some of HP’s online marketing tactics in the past, yet I recognize that even in their mistakes one can see a serious attempt to adapt corporate marketing to the challenging environment of the Internet. And as much as I’m a champion of little guys who leverage the Web, I’m very impressed when I see a huge corporate entity like HP allowing their brand marketers room to experiment.

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Clyde Smith • ProHipHop • clyde(at)prohiphop(dot)com