SXSW

South by Free Stuff

AUSTIN, Texas—South By Southwest veterans know one thing: If you pay for food or drinks, you’re doing it wrong.

Paying for convention center sandwiches is a total rookie move, as is drinking at the official beer tent, sponsored by Miller this year, across Fourth Street. Every tract of downtown Austin is rented out for these two weeks, and avoiding the unofficial parties seems willfully ignorant. Roving street teams hand you Italian wafer crackers, novel juices and nut bars, just for walking down the street. Brands’ parties are the good stuff (and the invite-only parties are the best stuff).

In 2014, SXSW was responsible for more than $200 million of expenditures in Austin—a huge chunk of that is the parties with grub and booze and swag given so freely to engage influencers and activate brands. In my five days at SXSW Interactive this year, I spent exactly $24.50 (not counting tips given for free drinks), thanks to obsessive research and RSVPs and the generosity of the Austin Technology Council, RealMassive, Ridescout, Huge, Fast Company, Gevalia, Canon, the Knight Foundation, New York Times Magazine, Kind Snacks, Dailymotion, the Simpsons, McDonalds, Gannett, Animal Planet, Fallon, Mashable, Consumer Electronics Association and WeDC.

The very nature of being a badge holder at SXSW indicates, at minimum, middle-class problems. No one being given a promotional T-shirt needs another promotional T-shirt. Every VIP at Mashable’s MashBash on Sunday received a selfie stick upon arrival—as if anyone needed the encouragement—and before midnight dozens of large cheese pizzas surfaced in the crowd. (We stacked them in a pile on a bar table with an ice pit down the middle; there were so many pizzas that we reserved one to potentially barter for a pedicab ride home; no one noticed or cared.)

The length of the non-VIP line at MashBash was baffling, and at some other parties even the queue of very important people ran nearly as long as the line for non-specials. If everyone is important, no one is important; if everything is free, nothing is free. As I went from event lounge to immersive experience to brand activation, it became clear exactly how we pay for all this free stuff at SXSW:

Attention

You are entering a filming area where [Office Supply Brand] is currently videotaping and photographing. By entering this location, you consent to your voice, name and image being photographed, filmed and/or otherwise recorded, and to any use, in any and all media, throughout the universe in perpetuity, of your image, voice and name for any purpose whatsoever. If you do not wish to be photographed, please avoid the camera and let a member of our crew know that you do not wish to be filmed, and our crew will laugh.

Notice: Filming In Process

This area is being used to film and photograph for [Tech News Outlet]. By entering this area, you acknowledge that you have been informed that you may be photographed and/or recorded as part of the event. By remaining in this area, you are giving [Tech News Outlet] your consent to videotape, record and photograph your picture, likeness and voice, even if you become inebriated and do not retain awareness of the content of this agreement.

Notice

By entering this event, you consent to photos and audio/video recordings of yourself, which may be used by [Food Corporation] in any medium and for any purpose, including promotional purposes and for future food concept development. You release [Food Corporation] from any claims or liability in connection with any use of your name, voice, statements, image or likeness, and waive any rights you may have to payment or refills.

Important Notice

Please read carefully before entering. By attending this event, you hereby grant a license and permission to [Car Company] to utilize your appearance, image, voice and likeness, in perpetuity, in any and all manner and form and format of media throughout the world, not known or hereafter devised, including but not limited to photographs, video, recordings, broadcasts, lithographs, or webcasts of the event or location you are attending. You release [Car Company] and their designees, and their employees, successors, assignees, licensees, enemies, vendors and agents, for, from and against any and all claims for invasion of rights of publicity, privacy, defamation, immolation, or other claims or causes of action arising out of the production, reproduction, distribution, broadcast, exhibition, excavation, or other exploitation of the event you are attending.

**YOU ARE BEING PHOTOGRAPHED AND FILMED**

This area is being used to take photographs in connection with a promotional and publicity campaign for [Insurance Corporation]. By your presence in this area, you acknowledge that you’ve been informed that you may be photographed and filmed, and you irrevocably consent to [Insurance Corporation]’s use of such photographs in any manner whatsoever and in any media now known or hereafter developed, including but not limited to [Insurance Corporation]’s social media pages, such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Meerkat and [Insurance Corporation]’s official online blog as well as [Insurance Corporation]’s official offline blog. Your presence here constitutes your irrevocable permission for your likeness to be included therein without compensation, credit, or other consideration. If you don’t wish to be photographed or appear under these conditions, you should leave this area immediately and stay out of camera range, including telephoto. Any failure to do so will be conclusively deemed a waiver of any and all claims, including, without limitation, for invasion of privacy, publicity, defamation, degradation, etc. Thank you for your cooperation.

You can follow Grace on Twitter at @GraceDobushToGo. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

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