Shell Will Treat SXSW Attendees to Real-Life Mario Kart Races

Company Ties Up With Nintendo for Launch of Latest Synthetic Oil

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SXSW might seem like an odd place for a motor oil brand presence, but during this year's Austin confab, it looks like Shell-owned Pennzoil might have the coolest activation around.

Pennzoil is launching Pennzoil Platinum with PurePlus Technology, a new offering under the Platinum line that is made with natural gas. The company is eschewing Nascar and appearances in auto magazines for "Mario Karting Reimagined," an activation that will let South By attendees jump inside a life-size Mario Kart for a racing experience.

The karts feature RFID technology that communicates between the vehicle, the track and icons on the course. Those icons -- there are eight in total -- include the familiar "red turtle shell" and "banana peel" that gamers familiar with the game know, as well as Pennzoil icons that speed up the kart's performance. The karts themselves have GoPros attached to the roofs -- the races will be simulcast on screens nearby and in the festival's main building at the Austin Convention Center.

"What I don't want it to be is the formulaic launch for a motor oil," Chris Hayek, global brand manager at Shell, told Ad Age. "This is a great innovative product that I need the kids aged 18 to 24 to know about."

That was the challenge set to Shell agency JWT, Atlanta, who decided to partner with Nintendo, which incidentally also has a new version of the game, Mario Kart 8, coming out. Jeremy Jones, creative director, said that the idea was to "reach different audiences" other than the oil aficionados that read auto magazines.

The track itself is a thousand feet long, and features four different karts -- Princess, Bowser, Mario and Luigi. The footage captured from the cameras atop the karts is sent to participants after the race. Elements of the new Mario Kart game also appear on the screens seen by viewers. Perry Fair, president and chief creative officer at JWT, Atlanta, said that the idea was the take a product and innovation that's extremely complex, but turn it into a campaign so anyone could understand it. "The icons not only help you through the game, but help you understand the tech within the product."

The activation will be at SXSW at Austin's Palmer Events Center starting Friday.

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