Austin, Texas — Hollywood seems to be taking a “working vacation” deep in the heart of Texas. Celebrities – from Jake Gyllenhaal to Mike Tyson to Eliza Dushku to Al Franken – are making appearances at South By Southwest Interactive to promote causes, movies, and their own marketing initiatives.
ClickZ sat down with the actress Dushku, former NBA star and actor Rick Fox, and Matt Britton, CEO of social marketing agency Mr. Youth, to discuss why SXSWi was an important junketing and networking opportunity for famous performers.
Fox worked with Mr. Youth for a basketball tournament-styled event last week, where University of Arizona in Tucson students were offered the chance to compete against champion male and female athletes like Kurt Warner and Diana Taurasi.
The initiative, called “Campus Legends,” was sponsored by Hewlett-Packard (HP) and promoted via Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare. Fox and Dushku – who are a couple – leveraged their sizable social media audiences (Dushku has 762,000 Twitter followers) to promote the tournament. Timed to coincide with NCAA’s “March Madness” period, various HP products were awarded to participating students during the campaign.
ClickZ: So let’s start with the HP initiative and then talk about larger social media issues. What were HP’s key goals?
Matt Britton: Perception, awareness, and going deep on sales channels on Arizona’s campus.
Rick Fox: They got into a university bookstore where they hadn’t done business before.
Britton: It shows the power of what we are doing… HP’s social media numbers were through the roof, as well.
ClickZ: What’s the biggest reason that celebrities are jumping into social media marketing efforts?
Fox: I think fans are demanding more access to celebrities. The new generation is used to having a conversation without being sold to. They want to hear why you like a product and share that information with their friends. Sports fans in particular want more. They want authenticity.
Eliza Dushku: It’s a choice. We are moving out from just being entertainers into this world of being a brand, into a world of producing [content]… In this day and age, and I am going to repeat something [actor] Kevin Pollak said today, if you are going down this avenue of social media, you are either waiting or creating. And I think the sky’s the limit. You have an opportunity to grow, cross-pollinate and merge with brands that are authentically part of your life.
ClickZ: Why is SXSWi important to you folks?
Fox: We are making ourselves available to have those sit-down conversations because there are something like 150 brands here. You can get that one-on-one conversation about what their brand is speaking to. My demographic is my demographic, and Eliza’s is different.
Britton: We’re here to start conversations with the Microsofts, the American Expresses, the Coca-Colas of the world. Because obviously, people like Rick and Eliza have strong networks.
ClickZ: What draws you the most to Twitter and Facebook?
Dushku: It’s changed the model of how entertainers interact with their fans. And now you can put statements out in the exact context that you want. It’s a more honest and authentic representation of who we are and what we are about… But I’m not firing my publicist and hiring my own two thumbs, though.
ClickZ: Last question, Charlie Sheen… winning or not winning?
Dushku: I think it’s hard to judge when you are dealing with addiction and dealing with disease. I am not going to slam him. I hope he gets well.
Fox: Here’s what I think – he’s winning with like-minded people. There are people he obviously speaks to.
Dushku: I think we are going to look back in 100 years where this will be the apex of where it just went over the line… It’s almost dangerous to see how people have elevated this.
Fox: And I don’t disagree. I think you are absolutely right. The things people do for celebrity seems to continue to ratchet up. I don’t think it’s personally capped to Charlie Sheen. The celebration of it now only encourages it.