Mazda goes shareable at South by Southwest

Fest strategy targets trendsetting young people

Fest strategy targets trendsetting young people

Mazda‘s 12-foot SXSW statue at last year’s festival was shared many times on social media.

As people grew comfortable sharing every aspect of their lives on social media, a popular saying emerged on the Internet: “Pics or it didn’t happen.”

Mazda Motor Corp., in the second year of a three-year sponsorship of the sprawling South by Southwest arts festival in Austin, Texas, is trying to take advantage of that phenomenon to make its cars the first choice of trendsetting young people.

At one of the outdoor music stages for last year’s festival, Mazda built a 12-foot statue with “SXSW” in giant letters and Mazda’s logo underneath. In the background was the Austin skyline. People flocked to the statue to pose for a photo they could share with friends on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat.

Mazda is fine-tuning its strategy this year for more “social amplification,” says Russell Wager, vice president of U.S. marketing at Mazda North American Operations: “Everything that happens there is constantly being broadcast to people who can’t make it to Austin.”

Compared with Honda, Hyundai or Toyota, Mazda is a tiny car company with a shoestring marketing budget. It can’t afford a big-ticket sponsorship of a sports league or a multimillion-dollar advertisement during the Super Bowl broadcast.

Instead, Mazda works year-round to make SXSW, scheduled from Friday, March 11, through Sunday, March 20, its largest marketing event. Wager says that market research shows SXSW’s film buffs, music fans and gamers mesh perfectly with Mazda’s target customer.

On streets and at music venues at the festival, the Mazda3 is featured.

SXSW reported having more than 84,000 badge-holding attendees in 2015, but accounting for the hundreds of unofficial concerts, film screenings and parties across Austin, the total number of attendees rises into the hundreds of thousands.

Mazda’s most visible marketing effort at SXSW is the Mazda Express ride service. Last year it gave 6,000 rides around Austin in the Mazda3, Mazda6 and CX-5, free of charge. This year it is doubling its fleet from 18 vehicles to more than 30.

“If someone’s passionate about driving and they didn’t know about us, their consideration increases dramatically if we can just get them to experience our vehicles,” Wager says. “That’s pretty powerful.”

Mazda is also sponsoring a pop-up music venue called Hype Hotel, run by New York-based music website Hype Machine. Last year the company had a smaller presence there, displaying a Mazda3 that had been transformed into a musical instrument using devices that translate vibrations into sounds.

This year Mazda designed a visual display of a CX-3 that will move to the music as artists play onstage, ensuring that the new crossover will be featured in posts on social media and online videos. Though last year’s musical Mazda3 was fun in person, Wager says, it wasn’t easy to share the experience online.

Wager first attended SXSW in the late 1980s as a student at the University of Texas-Austin. It was a small, local festival then, but it just keeps growing.

“Five years ago, I would have said I couldn’t see how it could get any bigger,” Wager said. “I was wrong.”

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