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(Hashtag) Power to the People

Last March, Razorfish created a ‘Digital Campground’ for SXSW Interactive. Sponsored by numerous brands including Adobe and Qualcomm, the campaign used social media to power transportation and lodging accommodations.

When creatives from Razorfish attended SXSW Interactive in years past, they picked up on a big problem: the festival wasn’t able to logically accommodate all the basic needs of its roughly 32,000 attendees. There was a lack of transportation and of lodging; and what was available was absurdly expensive due to the shortage.

In 2013, Patrick McHugh, a Razorfish creative director, and more than a dozen of his agency colleagues, addressed the transportation issue by devising the #UseMeLeaveMe free bike sharing campaign that also served as a social media experiment. In 2014, Razorfish teamed up with Adobe to take #UseMeLeaveMe a step further, and make it even more localized, by creating a “digital campground” that incorporated a lodging solution called “Buds for Beds.”

On Your Marks, Get Set, Tweet

#UseMeLeave was “born out of necessity,” McHugh says, describing the first campaign in 2013 as “a social experiment in creativity and technology.” The agency put forth a fleet of 20 bicycles that were equipped with lights, batteries, a GPS unit, names, and even their own personalities. The bikes have the ability to post comments to Twitter. One named Leila tweeted, along with a local weather update, “Come ride on me, hot stuff.” Yes, these bikes had personality indeed.

“We released the bikes into the wild for people to use and leave at their leisure,” says McHugh. “Riders could track the bikes at usemeleaveme.com, or follow their tweets via #UseMeLeaveMe.”

The 2013 campaign was a great success. In just five days, it earned over 22 million impressions, and went on to win the “Best of Digital” award at the Austin Addy’s.

“[In 2014], we expanded on that program by tackling additional logistical nightmares festival goers face,” McHugh says. “Hotels are incredibly expensive and book quickly, and events are hard to get into.”

Social-Fueled and “Teched-Out”

Razorfish created a site for festival-goers and staged a contest that offered the winner a free house during their stay at SXSW. “Our social-fueled site let teams create their profiles, tell the world why they should win, and share with their [social] networks to rally votes,” McHugh says.

“After fierce competition, one team emerged victorious and got to stay at a downtown house in Austin for the festival. To help with exclusivity, we built a teched-out space to relax, connect, and have fun.”

This “digital campground” featured hackathons, mobile scavenger hunts, interactive videos, live music, and social projections. It was a place, McHugh says that “fused digital and physical,” that was open to all attendees, inviting them to come over, chill out, have fun. And it was a fertile ground for in-person advertising.

Adobe, which provided the marketing solutions used to power the social experience and the #UseMeLeaveMe website, had a branded airstream trailer on the campground. The trailer included a videogram experience that festival-goers could participate in and share out to their social networks. Attendees could also see their creative cloud in action as an after-effects artist/premier editor was on site editing the ideograms in real time.

Brands, Brands Everywhere

In addition to Adobe, numerous brands signed up with Razorfish to sponsor this year’s #UseMeLeaveMe campaign. The list of partners includes: MapMyFitness/Under Armour, Qualcomm, Citi, Atwater Brewery, Z Tequila, Deep Eddy Vodka, Kraft, Mass Relevance, SingTrix/Humble, JcDecaux, Gnip, and Balcones Recycling.

All sponsors had a presence at the digital campground with various activations and signage, as well as through social media mentions and activations. Like Adobe, MapMyFitness had an airstream trailer that was decked out specifically for its brand. The brand also introduced its relationship with UnderArmour at the campground and featured demos, custom 3D printing on site, blender bikes that utilized the A39 app, various invite-only morning workouts, and so on.

Qualcomm and Citi partnered for the Gimbal Beacon Bowl, where developers used the Gimbal technology to create use case scenarios for Citi’s bike sharing program in NYC. Atwater Brewery hit the campground to debut its “Dirty Blonde Ale” to the Southwest market. Some brands spread the love beyond the tent. For instance, Qualcomm’s Gimbal S10 proximity beacons were featured on the bikes, and were used to notify riders of happenings at the digital campground.

“We built a mobile app for our Qualcomm Gimbal scavenger hunt that was tied into our #UseMeLeaveMe bike program,” McHugh says. “It was an effective way to reach the many riders who would come across our bikes on a daily basis.”

Busy Bikes, Buzz For Beds

The bikes were kept pretty busy both by their various riders and their distinct social abilities. Over a period of five days, the bikes logged 490 collective miles, 530 tweets, and 328,760 impressions. The “Buds for Beds” program generated its own buzz, with its winners yielding an additional 46,918 impressions in five days, says McHugh.

Overall, 2014’s #UseMeLeaveMe campaign blew 2013’s out of the water, raking in roughly 8.47 million social impressions (up 185 percent from last year); 994 mentions of #UseLeaveMe (up 168 percent from last year); 6.15 million impressions (up 5,840 percent from last year), and 317 bike mentions (up 204 percent from last year). “#usemeleame also broke through the #SXSW noise to trend on Twitter in Austin,” McHugh adds.

Razorfish intends to orchestrate #UseMeLeaveMe every year for SXSW Interactive, and to build it up further year after year. McHugh suggests that brands will continue to play a key role in the evolution of the campaign. “Brand involvement is paramount to creating an innovative, technology-infused experience for festival-goers.”