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The big winner at SXSW this year wasn't an app: It was a mattress company

Courtesy of One:Night

The annual South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, has catapulted various apps to stardom, although they haven't always lasted much longer than that.

In 2007, Twitter took off there. In 2009, it was Foursquare's turn; in 2015, Meerkat (which only lasted about a year and a half).

But this year, it wasn't an app that got people talking. It was mattress company Casper.

During the event, tech and advertising executives were lauding the e-commerce mattress company for its smart business practices, including clever marketing campaigns and ease of purchase. But mostly, Casper became a status symbol of sorts. People who owned one kept humble-bragging about having it at home.

One person vividly recounted the day the mattress was shipped to them in a tinier-than-expected, extremely heavy box, while another admitted he threw away his still OK Sealy Posturepedic to exchange it for a Casper. One of the selling points of the smart tiny home Kasita is it comes equipped with a Casper mattress.

"We've always considered ourselves a tech company," Gabriel Flateman, Casper co-founder and chief technology officer, told CNBC. "We saw an opportunity to bring tech innovation to an industry that has seen little of it in decades."

Casper's rep this year was cemented when the company found a clever way to market itself — and in the process save the day for attendees stranded in Austin.

Gabriel Flateman, Casper
Source: Casper
Gabriel Flateman, Casper

One of the biggest challenges of the South by Southwest Festival is getting a place to stay in downtown Austin. Hotels and Airbnb listings are often sold out months in advance. But when you add an unexpected winter snowstorm that cancelled most Northeast flights, it turned into a downright nightmare this year.

Casper partnered with the Standard Hotel's One:Night app for a promotion in downtown Austin. Every day at 3 p.m., One:Night released 20 hotel rooms for $99 each, far below the going rate of $250–$1,200 a night.

But it wasn't just about a cheap place to stay. The rooms were outfitted with Casper mattresses and pillows, slippers and car service from Tesla. If you didn't want to leave, there were unofficial SXSW events at the property, plus virtual reality experiences and cocktails. You could even call the front desk to request a real mom to come read you a bedtime story and tuck you in.

Casper also hosted free 45-minute "refresh rooms," complete with Casper mattresses, milk and cookies, a place to charge your devices and a warm shower.

The promotion originally ran March 10 through 14, but when flight cancellations hit, the companies decided on a whim to extend the event. They also threw a party Tuesday night party for stranded attendees with rapper Warren G, who someone knew through a friend of a friend.

"I woke up with my flight to New York cancelled and all associated meetings missed," said SXSW attendee Lex Kendall, founder and chief operating officer of high-tech bodega company The New Stand.

"The biggest pain of it all — I thought — was going to be finding an empty room in Austin during SXSW. But with the One:Night app, in two taps I immediately had a room for $99, paired with a stellar space at the Austin Motel, Casper mattress and pillows to sleep on and a dope event to attend the same night for all of us stranded New Yorkers. It was a lifesaver."

The ONE:NIGHT & Casper Hotel experience took place at the Austin Motel in Austin, Texas.
Courtesy of One:Night
The ONE:NIGHT & Casper Hotel experience took place at the Austin Motel in Austin, Texas.

This deal wasn't Casper's only presence at the festival. The company also repeated last year's promotion near the convention center, where people could take 8-minute power naps on a Casper mattress in an R.V. Slippers and cold-brew coffee was also provided, as well as two Casper dog beds for visitors with furry friends.