SXSW 2016: Monday Insights


It has become evident that this year’s conference is taking place during a particularly interesting (and some would argue, confusing) time that is best described as a techno-evolutionary grey area: There’s no question that mobile is the first screen, and with >80% of US mobile users owning smartphones, it can be considered a mature market with a more or less defined set of industry players and user behaviors. There’s always room for a new, bright, shiny object, but an app or service has to be truly revolutionary to become part of a consumer’s already-cluttered mobile diet.

The end of this product cycle means that attention is directed to our collective post-mobile future. With the possible exception of VR/AR and IoT, the next multi-billion dollar industries being discussed at SXSW are far too intangible and conceptual for most to get truly excited about. It takes less energy to fall in love with a new mobile app vs. understanding the implications of the nascent worlds of CRISPR genomics, AI-fueled robotics, or consumer space travel.

This year’s conference, therefore, has been a back to basics exercise for many. Brand activations continue to dominate the conversation over panels. The best technology at this year’s SXSW may very well be the business card, and the most important experiences are in-person meetings and spending time with colleagues.



“How many days were you sick last year?” That’s a question Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank wants to help us all answesxsw 23r.

In the keynote “How a Sports Giant is Now Tackling Your Health,” Plank spoke candidly on Under Armour’s massive growth and success in aligning with athletes. However, the SXSW audience was most excited to hear about the brand’s recent pivot towards technology. Since acquiring MapMyRun and MyFitnessPal, Under Armour has created UA Record, “the world’s largest digital health and connected fitness community.” The brand recently released the HealthBox Fitness Tracking System, which measures fitness, activity, nutrition and sleep through a connected scale, tracker, heart rate monitor and app. “Data is the new oil,” said Plank. UA has partnered with IBM’s Watson in order to derive actionable insights from the massive network of data.

Plank believes that tracking this data benefits both the consumer and Under Armour, who can find out more about how their products perform over time. He sees the HealthKit as the next chapter in Under Armour’s history of providing products that consumers never knew they needed, and now can’t live without. Despite their shift towards technology, Plank told the crowd that a whiteboard in their Baltimore HQ display’s his mantra: “Don’t Forget To Sell Shirts and Shoes.”



sxsw 24Global Web Index (Jan. 2016)

With all the panels and discussion on ad blocking this year, attendees were hopeful for insights around a solution. The fact is, there is no solution. Today, 37% of mobile users are blocking ads (Global Web Index), and 47% of people aged 18-24 are using ad blockers (UK, IAB).

It’s no secret that consumers are resistant to content that doesn’t align with their needs. And unlike TV, our relationship with the Web is different; we’re less willing to take part in the value exchange: see ads, get content. Long before iOS 9 content/ad blockers, digital consumers were ad resistant. Now even more so, as mobile ads are eating our data and slowing us down. The New York Times found that half of data on mobile pages comes from ads (image size, dynamic, content, tracking scripts).

At SXSW, panelists discussed “solutions” like the Acceptable Ads Manifesto (which makes ads less disruptive and annoying), micropayments for content, going native, blocking ad blockers and giving the consumer more control. All of this may help a bit, but ad blocking is only going to keep rising.

It’s best for most brands to take an owned/earned-first content approach. With ads blocked, content’s influence on discoverability cannot be understated. Brands that lack owned/earned content, delivered and personalized to moments, cannot and will not engage consumers in the future of ad blocking.



FitBit and the CDT have partnered together to produce a study on ethics and privacy in wearables research. As fitness trackers continue to evolve and progress, the data they are collecting is becoming more comprehensive and more personal. The question becomes, where do we draw the line between public data, private data and health data, and what type of data is appropriate to share?

For many consumers, control over the data (what is collected and where it is shared) is the main concern. According to the CDT, companies need to consider individual dignity, operational stewardship and social good when navigating what data is being collected and how it is being shared. Companies should think of themselves and the type of data they would be comfortable sharing when considering their consumers.

There is no easy answer for wearable technology companies, but it is clear that consumer data privacy and efficacy is something that needs to be encoded in these companies from the very beginning, to ensure success in the future.



Technology has increasingly grown to find its voice. From Amazon Echo to Siri, people are changing the way they interact with devices. Advances in AI and hardware have facilitated this, but there are still challenges in voice technology today as we strive to interact seamlessly, rather than staring down at our devices.

People expect voice technology devices to not only understand us and talk back, but also interpret what we’re trying to do without us always explicitly stating it. Voice is powerful because it enables us to avoid breaking focus with our environments by staring at screens.

A new device in voice technology discussed at this year’s HAL to Her panel was Onyx by Orion Labs. Onyx extends your phone by using its Internet or Wi-Fi connection to keep you in touch and in the moment.

The next step to voice technology will be the ability for greater personalization, enabling personal assistants to combine voice commands with information from the Web, your own calendar, and contacts to better align to your intent.


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In one of the more unique panels of the week, The Future of Sports from the Future Generation, kids aged 7-17 discussed their true passions for sports: why they play, what advice that they would give to their children and where they see sports evolving. Common trends included:

  • Football: Kids expressed their love for the sport, and how players like Cam Newton have taken a leadership role on and off the field.
  • Confidence: Sports allow kids to build confidence in all aspects of life.
  • Distraction: Sports enable kids to feel like they can focus on something besides school. As the pressure of school has increased, sports allow for stress relief.

Brand Implications:

Kids are more focused on their favorite athletes and their passion for the sport than a specific brand. Brands need to focus on marketing moments rather than products, and highlight the personal connections families and children have with an athlete.



The biggest concern for SXSW attendees? Keeping their phone charged. Last year, Mophie set out to solve that problem with #MophieRescue. The makers of the popular cellphone charging case let anyone with a low cell phone battery send a tweet to receive a “rescue” from a charger carrying St. Bernard. The marriage of problem solving and adorable dogs took over social media.

For 2016, Mophie enhanced the experience by working with Indian Motorcycles. This year, attendees had their emergency battery packs delivered by St. Bernards sporting goggles in motorcycle side cars. Users could also visit the Bad To The Bone Yard, where they could see puppies, recharge, grab a drink and enter to win an Indian Motorcycle.

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Tapping into the latest craze over SoulCycle, Flywheel and other cycling workout classes, Peloton is changing the way we work out. The bike starts at $2K, with subscriptions costing $35 per month. Users keep the bike in their home and can workout at their own leisure, rather than having to sign up online for classes in advance.

The Peloton makes working out extremely convenient. Using the large touch screen at the front of the bike, you can select your workout instructor, duration of workout (anywhere from 10-120 minutes), type of music and type of workout. The bike looks like your standard cycling bike, with the exception of the digital screen.

Users can join live classes or select a class from the archives. For the live classes, you can see who else has signed up and communicate on social media.

For its activation at SXSW, Peloton allowed attendees to sign up for a ride. Upon arrival, they were taken to a private pod where the Peloton bike was housed, along with healthy snacks and a couch. Peloton is using technology to make working out more convenient, and more customized for consumers.



SXSW 30 Source: NetBase

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sxsw 32Source: NetBase

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