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These phone-charging Saint Bernards were the true heroes of SXSW
Even Elijah Wood couldn’t resist.
Now that SXSW is over, I can finally confess that I only participated in one event during its two-week run: the mophie rescue promotion that had Saint Bernards (yes, the dog breed) posted up at a bar, waiting to ride in a motorcycle’s sidecar to bring festival-goers brand new and fully-charged portable batteries for any USB-ported device. For free.
If you’ve lived in Austin for an extended period of time like me (14 years!), then you might feel, as I do, that the SXSW shitshow has become more of an exhausting drag than an exciting prospect for entertainment. In addition to fucking up traffic even more than usual for two weeks, SXSW is the physical, oversaturated manifestation of a surplus of choice and branding, all brought to a few streets in Austin.
The festival, in all its promotionally monstrous glory, comes to represent everything you love and hate about the city—and brand culture at large. An experiment in excess, free food and drinks abound at every corner of SXSW, all cross-promoted; people regularly hand you T-shirts, koozies, and other corporate swag as you walk down the street. SXSW can be great, but you have to wade through garbage in order to achieve this result; essentially, every successful show or event is a heroic victory, and you will not always discover the treasure you seek.
This all came to a head for me a couple of years ago when I lacerated my vagina in a bicycle accident on an Adderall-and-weed-fueled ride downtown to catch a band during the fest’s final weekend. Though I now relish telling this story to whomever will listen, it also marked a turning point in my SXSW debauchery—since then, I have slowed down. Now I want to be guaranteed a good time, and that is a big ask in the context of this festival. Most SXSW planning should be loose and approximate, accompanied by the lowest of expectations.
This year, I was resigned to staying at home, away from the chaos—but then I saw that Saint Bernards would be there, riding around in motorcycle sidecars to aid festival-goers whose electronic devices were dying. Thus was I called to brave the crowds in order to hang out with these plus-size pups on a beautiful Saturday afternoon during the interactive portion of SXSW.
Since I had already been in contact with mophie’s public relations team, I had a good feeling that the trip would be worth it, which was actually a pretty low bar—if I could pet at least two dogs, then I would rate the experience a resounding success.
My home base was the Bad to the Bone Bar, where you could purchase mophie products, gander at Indian motorcycles (America’s first motorcycle company), drink free shitty beer, and bond with dogs and puppies.
I hung out with Ross Howe, Vice President of Marketing at mophie, and Charley Fitzwilliam, from mophie’s Public Relations team, The Brand Amp. When I asked how the Saint Bernards idea manifested, neither one could give me a clear answer—it was simply one of those things that emerged from a spitballing session and came to life last year at SXSW, when the dogs were walked (instead of taxied) to their rescue locations.
Brands are no strangers to using live animals to advertise their products—Uber‘s kitten and puppy delivery comes to mind—but it can be difficult to implement a living creature into your marketing. If you can manage the difficulties that a live animal ad presents, then you’ve got a winning campaign on your hands. At this point, I’m not sure why SXSW hasn’t evolved into a petting zoo of sorts, what with the knowledge that cute animals attract attention wherever they go. (Cue an image of goats, sheep, and pigs wearing NASCAR-like jumpsuits covered in brand labels.)
Speaking of which, puppies!
Any concerns I had about the treatment of the animals were immediately allayed when I spoke with Christine Banky, head of the Saint Bernard Rescue Foundation’s Texas chapter. Most of the owners or foster parents of these animals were on site, keeping tabs on their pups, ensuring their stress levels were low and all their needs were met.
There was plenty of water for the dogs, and misting fans cooled off the pups that chilled in the small yard fashioned for them to take rests from the heat and crowds. The previous day’s rescue event was rained out, so the dogs were taken to a spa where they were pampered and groomed. This probably explains why every dog’s fur was the softest thing I’d ever had the privilege of touching in my 32 years on this planet.
I was even allowed to join the team on a rescue mission down the street (but no motorcycle ride for me), where I got to witness firsthand how a Saint Bernard in a sidecar is received by festivalgoers. Newsflash: People love this kind of shit—especially me. As you can see, Surrey really enjoyed the thorough back-scratching I gave him.
Folks at Bad to the Bone Bar were courteous with their time and info—turns out that telling a company that you are going to write about their cross-promotional advertisement is something they are more than willing to accommodate, whether by answering a bunch of questions or urging the Saint Bernard Rescue Foundation to let me crawl into a puppy pen.
Needless to say, my very specific of dream of cuddling with Saint Bernard puppies was easily realized, and I harbor no regrets about only attending this one event. I don’t know how any film or comedy or music act could live up to puppy snuggles anyway. And I’m dreaming big for next year, crossing my fingers that a thirsty-ass tech or startup company has a kitten promotion in the works, one that somehow involves me lying down and having kittens crawl all over my body, rub against my face, and purr into my ears, and maybe also I can nap there—perhaps one of those hip new mattress companies like Casper or Tuft and Needle would be on board.
Because that’s the only way I’m going to SXSW next year.
Photo via mophie
Jené Gutierrez is a reporter whose work focuses on feminism, politics, and internet culture.