Event Targeting, Texas-Style: Analyzing SXSW Foot Traffic and Trends


South by Southwest — the annual music, film, and interactive conference in Austin, Texas — is known for many things, not the least of which is the sheer amount of foot traffic it generates throughout the city. The 2017 event saw more than a quarter-million attendees, and this year’s fest offered the perfect opportunity to unleash our Event Targeting solution to capture a dynamic audience of likeminded mobile users and analyze trends across the Interactive (March 9-13), Film (March 9-17), and Music (March 12-18) festivals.

To begin, we drew geo-fences around Austin–Bergstrom International Airport and the Austin Convention Center, the home base of the 10-day event, to monitor the most popular travel days and general flow of foot traffic. We then selected a handful of popular venues throughout downtown Austin that played host to official South by Southwest events and drew geo-fences around those, with the intent of determining the most active events for each.

Here’s what we found.

Airport traffic was steady throughout the event — with one exception.

Airports are an ideal location for hotels, car rental companies, and other local businesses to target travelers. And with such a massive influx of people traveling to Austin during South by Southwest, Austin-Bergstrom definitely meets that criteria. According to our data, the biggest spike in airport foot traffic wasn’t the day before the festival or the day after, as one might expect; it was Wednesday, March 14 — smack-dab in the middle of the event — with March 12 and 13 ranking second and third, respectively.

This spike occurred near the Interactive festival’s conclusion, and just as the Film and Music festivals were kicking into gear. As Film and Music attendees continued to trickle in, those who came for the Interactive portion were likely headed home and catching their departing flights, amounting to the largest increase in mobile users during our measured time period. In all, there was a 25% increase in mobile users on March 14 compared to the average day during the event, which is especially notable given that airport traffic was relatively consistent on the other days of the festival.

Convention center activity peaked early, then gradually tapered off.

Everyone with a South by Southwest badge — the “ticket” to most official South by Southwest events — is required to check in at the Austin Convention Center. And starting on Friday, March 9, the first day of the Film and Interactive festivals, convention center traffic started to rise dramatically, increasing 48% over the previous day. Activity eventually peaked on Wednesday, March 12, as the music festival (generally the most attended fest of the three) kicked off and a bevy of keynotes and panel discussions were held in various rooms throughout the venue.

We saw the biggest swell of mobile users from 4-6 p.m. on March 12, when dozens of events were going on concurrently within convention center confines — the most prominent of which was a conversation with Rian Johnson, director of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But after that, traffic flow began to slowly taper off with each passing day, as less badges were retrieved and festival events flowed to theaters, bars, and clubs throughout the city.

Film screenings and concerts were ripe for targeting.

In contrast to the variety of events scattered throughout the convention center, movie theaters and music venues housed large gatherings of people with a common interest, all gathered in a single room. These are prime event targeting opportunities for marketers— and where Simpli.fi thrives. By strategically geo-fencing specific venues, advertisers have the ability to build target audiences with enthusiasm for a particular topic, and deliver digital ads to these individuals after the event. Festival season is just getting started, which means marketers will have plenty of opportunities to leverage this technology and deliver the ideal impression to passionate consumers.

As movie theaters go, the Paramount Theatre played host to many of the week’s biggest events — unsurprising, given its historic reputation and prominence at the festival. We saw especially significant spikes in Paramount foot traffic on the 12th, 14th, and 17th — during screenings for Boundaries, Hearts Beat Loud, and Isle of Dogs, respectively. The 12th was also among the most dynamic days at the ZACH Theatre, Vimeo Theater, and Rollins Theatre at the Long Center, while traffic at the Stateside Theatre surged during a March 14 screening of Sorry to Bother You, the acclaimed sci-fi comedy and Sundance Film Festival crowd-pleaser.

The music venues we tracked were ripe with both day parties and showcases that stretched well into the night, resulting in a steady ebb and flow throughout the entirety of the festival. Popular nightclub Barracuda saw the biggest increase in mobile users during the Paramount Network x Pitchfork SXSW Day Party on March 16, but its most active day overall was on the 12th, which coincided with its Hamburg x Berlin Music & Interactive Night. Traffic at The Sidewinder also swelled on the 12th, the day of the Don Giovanni and Father/Daughter showcase, while Elysium’s KCRW Showcase on the 13th and The Parish’s HipHopDX Showcase on the 16th were among those venues’ most significant draws, according to our data.

The last site we monitored, Micheladas Cafe y Cantina, saw its largest hourly spike on the 12th — toward the end of Accenture Interactive’s tech workshops, when participants were presumably networking and more active on their mobile devices. But the Tex-Mex restaurant’s most active day overall was March 13, when soaking in the 70-degree sun on the patio must have been especially alluring to festival attendees.

All of which is tantamount to the countless targeting opportunities presented at events like South by Southwest, whether it’s a B2B advertiser targeting an Interactive panel discussion, or another festival building a custom audience of music lovers at specific South by Southwest events. It’s the ultimate opportunity for marketers to identify events that align with their goals and employ a localized programmatic platform to build a custom, portable audience — reaching people who have already expressed interest in their product, and doing so at a granular level. Nothing is more precise or effective than that.

To learn more about Simpli.fi’s industry-leading Event Targeting solution, reach out to us at hi@simpli.fi.