- South by Southwest (SXSW), the yearly music, film and technology conference in Austin, Texas, was canceled for the first time in 34 years due to worries about the novel coronavirus and the related COVID-19 illness. The conference's organizer announced the decision after Austin Mayor Steve Adler on Friday issued a disaster declaration, giving the city greater authority over public safety.
- In a statement posted to its website, SXSW said it was looking to reschedule the event and provide a virtual online experience for this year's participants, starting with its SXSW EDU education conference. SXSW will soon post an update for registrants, clients and participants, per its announcement.
- The City of Austin and surrounding Travis County haven't confirmed any cases of the illness, officials said in an announcement. Last year, SXSW drew about 417,000 visitors to Austin for a variety of events, including almost 74,000 conference attendees, per its website.
SXSW's cancelation was somewhat of a surprise, considering that local government and public health officials said earlier last week that they weren't recommending the conference and festival be called off. Despite those reassurances, a Change.org petition asking SXSW's organizers to cancel the conference because of the virus received more than 55,000 signatures.
Companies such as Apple, Facebook, Netflix, TikTok, Twitter and WarnerMedia withdrew from the show before its official cancelation amid efforts to avoid exposing their employees to possible infection. Many companies are limiting "non-essential" travel, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created a website to help people understand how the coronavirus is affecting travel.
For marketers, the SXSW cancelation is another sign of how the virus is disrupting their event sponsorships, conferences, exhibitions and experiential marketing efforts. Major trade shows like Mobile World Congress (MWC) already were canceled, while others like Shoptalk have been rescheduled to later this year. Companies including Adobe, Facebook and Google canceled events that have in the past showcased major product and service announcements. Those cancelations will challenge them to find other ways to connect with customers and developers and to generate publicity. Those efforts may include webinars, streaming video presentations and interactive experiences that rely on electronic communications.
While potentially unlikely, cancelation of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo could have the most profound effect on marketers, which are forecast to spend $5.94 billion on sponsorships for the global sporting event. So far, the International Olympic Committee hasn't indicated that it would cancel the games, which will run July 24 to Aug. 9. Still, it's too early to tell how the coronavirus might interfere with the games.
The novel coronavirus may also disrupt experiential marketing campaigns among brands that seek to cut through the ad clutter and reach younger consumers who tend to share experiences on social media. More than half (53%) of brands had planned to boost their experiential marketing budgets in the next year and a half, per a survey by Agency EA. One-fifth of respondents said they had spent more than 25% of their marketing budgets on experiences last year. As health officials warn people from attending large gatherings, brands may have to curtail their experiential marketing efforts for the foreseeable future.