Spotify, small businesses hope to capitalize on South by Southwest’s college market

Spotify hopes to capture college-aged people with its house at South by Southwest. | Cara Smith/the Cougar

Spotify hopes to capture college-aged people with its house at South by Southwest. | Cara Smith/the Cougar

There’s free Kale chips and Pop Chips, and the supply of Deep Eddy’s Vodka and Miller Lite is seemingly bottomless. A crowd of a couple hundred twenty-somethings has formed around a single food truck that’s giving away Thai chicken Kara-agé fried in cilantro and fresh Thai basil. The house’s sole air-conditioned room is expectedly packed to capacity, where people are charging their smartphones, playing music trivia and taking selfies that are then projected on a 6 foot tall mock-iPhone screen.

It’s all courtesy of Spotify and their partners, vendors and chefs from around the nation. The hundreds of companies and brands at the festival are hoping to capitalize on South by Southwest’s growing audience of college-aged youths and young professionals, and the streaming giant has established its Spotify House as one of the festival’s most premiere venues.

Why South by Southwest? In 2013, SXSW’s economic impact on Austin made it the highest revenue-producing event for the city’s economy, bringing in $218 million in business. And despite the services of Spotify and other vendors being offered free of charge, marketing at SXSW is a natural way to integrate a brand with one of the most memorable week’s of most college student’s year.

Marketing at SXSW is a bold but necessary for Spotify, as it’s looking to shed the label of being a “music” brand in favor of becoming an “interactive” brand, said a Spotify spokesperson. Fans that visited the Spotify House last year experienced some vast changes, most of which are based on the company’s insights into what most college students use it’s software for — creating workout playlists.

During SXSW, there’s morning Soul Cycle rides at the house, where around 50 people have been able to workout at the venue before the shows start. The free Thai food, as well as vegetarian-friendly fried Brussels sprouts, is the result of Spotify recruiting chefs from New York City to cater the daily “parties,” which feature a lineup of around 10 up-and-coming artists that often later partner with the streaming company to produce live, Spotify-exclusive tracks.

One of the small businesses capitalizing on the festival and it’s collegiate market is Nada Moo, an Austin-based ice cream company. Representatives were at the House from morning until 6 p.m. handing out free scoops of the coconut milk-based dessert to hundreds of attendees.

Emily Watkins, a University of Texas alum and native of Cypress, said that the company’s second-largest consumer base is college-aged males and females. The festival makes sense for the company to market at, she said, due to SXSW’s popularity among her product’s target market and the mass-appeal that the 100 percent vegan, dairy free ice cream has on college student seeking out healthy alternatives.

“We see engagement (at SXSW) on social media and Instagram,” said Watkins. “We do a lot in Austin since we’re all UT alums… and we’re always reaching out to students.”

But some of the efforts to revamp the Spotify House with trendy brands and free swag may be going unnoticed by the festival’s major market. Emma Whatley, a sophomore at St. Edwards University, attended the Spotify House at last year’s SXSW festival. She said that if anything, the crowd here is diverse but “a little older,” and the music lineup doesn’t reflect who she listens to on a daily basis.

“I don’t know that it’s catered more to younger people… I almost feel like it’s catered more to an older crowd,” Whatley said. “I don’t really think the house has changed much since last year.”

South by Southwest Music will continue through Sunday, March 22 in Austin.

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