Spreading Social Good at SXSW 2015
Every March, a chunk of the Internet arrives in Austin, Texas for copious amounts of barbecue, frosty drinks and hopefully some mind expanding conversations. I’ve certainly got older as SXSW has grown and every year I look at my experience with a fresh set of eyes, while remembering what it use to be like.
This year was different for me on all levels. I wasn’t just there as an attendee, but I was there with a campaign that I was helping execute and thus my time was limited for some of the hallway magic that I love about the event.
SyncYourInk.club was an idea hatched from many conversations with my partner in crime Brad Powell. The idea was a simple one where anyone could swing by our nomadic studio and tattoo parlor to receive a custom air-brushed tattoo that represented one of the tenants of the triple bottom line: people, planet and profits.
The tattoos would last for several days and as our branded advocates walked the streets and attended sessions, they’d see others with a tattoo and start a conversation with them.
Our hope was that by finding fellow members of the SyncYourInk.club they’d make new friends and take a moment to snap and share a photo of their tattoos and share them using #SyncYourInk on whatever social platform they chose.
Even after no brands stepped up to support our effort, we decided to move forward. We believe that the concept of social good is one that not enough people know about and if our efforts could help educate and inspire even a handful of people, we were ready to put in the time and effort.
No matter how much you plan and organize, the universe loves to mess with you. Ours came in the form of a pizza truck that would shut off our installation from the masses walking up and down the streets. Never mind the fact that it also killed the concept of doing interviews in our studio.
We evolved our idea on the spot, making it smaller and more nimble and continued on.
The conversations we had with hundreds of people as they paused to see what we were doing and then as they received their tattoos was amazing. Many had never heard of the triple bottom line, social good or the simple fact that businesses could be about more than only making money. We talked a lot about how more of us are choosing the brands we support in a similar way to how we choose our friends.
We had families with their kids, executives, musicians and students all stop by. While our planet tattoo was by far the most popular, there was plenty of all three walking the streets of Austin.
Personally, I'm disappointed in how few friends and colleagues swung by to see us. Here we were planted at a single location for hours at a time and yet I saw more friends when I was walking the streets between events than I did when we were set up. This theme of only seeing people when moving is one I’m still trying to process.
To those that did stop by at any time, I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.
The second part of our activation occurred on Sunday during the Austin+SocialGood portion of SXSW.
We spent the day at Austin City Hall attending a variety of panels on social impact and talking to attendees about the great work that our friends from 2 Feet Firm are doing in the world.
Our tattoo artist Michelle from On the Spot Body Art is also an accomplished body painter and as the panels wound down, we ramped up our efforts again with our living "Tree of Giving" that we used to raise more social good awareness.
Starting with bare branches on her head, we’d ask festival goers and anyone we crossed paths with to make a $20 donation for a piece of jewelry from The EVE Project. The money would go back to the women artists in Swaziland and the jewelry would be donated to local women’s shelters in Austin. As a thank you, the donor would be given a colored ribbon to tie on the branches.
As the sun set, the tree branches became illuminated with LED lights that instantly grabbed more attention everywhere we went. In the midst of the SXSW chaos, it was refreshing to see people react so positively to something that wasn’t about marketing or another new app. They got excited about us looking to help rather than pimp something new.
Talk about restoring your faith in humanity!
We woke up the next morning to the news that USA Today had posted a photo of our project on their Instagram feed. Never a bad thing when passion leads to promotion like that.
It still warms my heart to look at this photo I took at the very end of the night and all the ribbons hanging from her branches. Each of those represents someone who wanted to make the world a little bit better around them and we helped make it happen. That makes all of the long hours and hard work completely worth it.
All in all, we are very happy with how it turned out. It is an idea that we executed in its smallest form and we know that it could expand exponentially at other events and with bigger budgets.
We’ve already had some conversations with people interested in taking it to a new level and that excites me.
Even with how busy I was, I snuck in quality time with some important people.
I missed spending time with many more and that bums me out, but it is how it goes at an event like this. There were no late night parties for me, but there were quiet drinks at The Driskill, gingerbread pancakes at the Magnolia Cafe and a bucket of cream corn and wet brisket at Rudy’s.
The ideas and inspiration I received from the sessions I attended still have my mind swirling. They helped reinvigorate me even more than the Texas sunshine did after a rough and dark winter here in New England.
Thank you to the team at .Club who helped make this activation possible. They’ve really got something amazing going on over there and I finally understand when a domain extension can be about more than a series of letters and can become an integrated part of a company’s or marketing campaign’s core being. I look forward to adding more members to the SyncYourInk.club in the future.
Austin, I already miss you and look forward to attending SXSW again next year.
While plenty will puke up snark and critique towards you, I don’t think they are the ones who understand what the event is truly all about. They need to stop lusting after “the next great thing” and instead look for the next great idea, person or organization.
SXSW continues to be an important yearly event for me and I don't see that changing anytime soon.