Friday, January 26, 2007

Sundance and Swag

Lots of people (and now me) keep writing articles about how Sundance is officially trying to cut back on swag. Just today, for example, Variety ran an article on how "For Sundance, Swag becomes a Drag." But, I'd like to be contrarian for a moment and call them on this nonsense - all of their press releases, conversations against swag, buttons pushing films over swag, etc. do nothing but entice more marketers to see Sundance for what it is - a big market for their products. Like it or not, Sundance, you're stuck with this one. Let's be clear - Sundance is only upset about this because it distracts attention away from them and their sponsors. And let's also acknowledge what any marketing person will tell you - they are sponsoring swag tents and storefronts as unofficial sponsors because it's not cost-efficient to become an official sponsor. I know - we tried once (at another job) to sponsor an official brunch through Sundance, and they made it impossibly expensive and prohibitive, so we were forced to just throw the brunch ourselves without their help.

Sundance's proposed efforts to stop swag include working locally to try to keep these marketers from renting space, to making it seem uncool to be a guerilla marketer and to "disincentivize" them from sponsoring unoffically. Sounds familiar to me - this is much the same way they reacted when Slamdance started. It took them years to realize they could coexist, and that their efforts to fight Slamdance were just bringing Slamdance more press. If Sundance were smart, they would rent all the space in town themselves, getting bulk rate discounts from landlords, and turn them around for a better deal to these sponsors. Or, lower their rates to something realistic and have more sponsors. Instead of fighting them, embrace them and get a little bit for yourself. Or, just ignore them - we (attendees) are getting sick of it all anyway.

Yes, it is now impossible to tell the real sponsors from the unofficial ones, but it just points out a simple truth - that being an official sponsor has never been all that special. Let me be clear - I like Sundance, and having run a smaller fest, understand the need to keep sponsors happy, but nothing I've heard so far sounds like a good idea to me. I think it's truly too late to reclaim Park City for some pristine ideal of film watching - which hasn't existed for a long time, and probably never will. Sundance is either going to have to embrace the circus-like atmosphere and come up with some way to make an official sponsorship be more valuable than a logo on a trailer (i.e. meaningful sponsorship relationships), or embrace a lot more sponsors for less money - which could net more profit for them in the long run. I don't have the answer for them, but I'm willing to bet we're all going to have to think about this more and more as Sundance is usually a harbinger of things to come for other fests.

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