At SXSW, Apple schools the marketing experts

Thousands are in town to demonstrate their social-marketing chops or to try to repeat the past explosive growth of Twitter in 2007 and Foursquare in 2009. But no one should be surprised that when it comes to showing everyone how marketing is done, no one can top Jobs & Co.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
3 min read
Despite the fact that no one confirmed there was an Apple Store behind the butcher paper, day-long lines appeared at what turned out to be the pop-up iPad 2 launch at SXSW Caroline McCarthy/CNET

AUSTIN, Texas--Let's face it folks: when it comes to marketing at SXSW 2011, Apple out and out dominated everyone. On the first day. The game is already over.

The South by Southwest Interactive conference (SXSW) has become the essential place for social-marketing experts to come to show how good they are. And for those experts to try to show their clients they know how to manage explosive launches the way Twitter did here in 2007 and Foursquare did in 2009.

But no matter how many giant stages Pepsi builds, or parties Facebook or Digg throw, no matter how many giant buses CNN has here or group texting apps are the thing everyone's discovering, when all is said and done, there's no question that the one launch everyone will remember from SXSW this year will be the pop-up Apple Store and the iPad 2 going on sale.

And lest anyone think that it was a one-day splash, let me point out that on Saturday, the next day, there were still people lined up outside the store waiting to pay many hundreds of dollars for an iPad 2. The other big lines around town were for free beer. Or barbecue. Or maybe for that hottest reward of all, a free iPad 2.

Though everyone in the world knew that there was a temporary Apple Store behind the butcher paper in the windows of the classic Scarbrough Building at Sixth Street and Congress Avenue, the company wouldn't confirm it. And yet daylong lines lines nearly a block long sprung up. Let's see any other company in the world try to make that happen at a retail location that could, or maybe couldn't, exist.

All day Friday, Apple, the iPad 2, and the pop-up store were the talk of SXSW--and even in the midst of a national buzzfest about the launch of the new tablet, people noticed the fantastic splash in Austin.

But the conversation hasn't really locked in on the more subtle idea that Steve Jobs & Co. just put on one of the most in-your-face examples of stealing the show in years. This is an interactive conference, after all. It's where companies that are changing the game with what they do online show the rest of the technology world how it's done. It's not where a hardware company--albeit one with a pretty healthy online presence of its own--comes to drop in about five blocks away and say with all the calm confidence in the world, "Who's your daddy?"

The fact is, the reason few are putting it in these terms is because it's a given that Apple could pull this one out of its hat. It's like air. It just is. Everyone's amazed at what they pulled off. But find me someone who's surprised.

The ones who should be asking themselves what just happened to them are the social-media marketing experts who came to here with promises to their clients that they'd be the talk of the town. And they might be. But only after folks are finished talking about what Apple did.