Q: DOES SXSW STILL MATTER? A: YES
Major announcements usually reserved for SXSW were made earlier in the year during CES and the newly marketing-friendly Mobile World Congress.
So, does SXSW still matter? Absolutely.
For the past decade, SXSW has been riding the wave of the emergence of mobile as a platform and smartphones as a primary screen. It is the birthplace and trial ground of apps such as Twitter (2007), and user behaviors such as mobile-based live streaming video (2015).
Now that mobile is mature and giving way to the new frontiers of VR/AR, IoT, driverless cars, etc., a recalibration of sorts was evident this year; if you were looking for advances in present-day tech, you may have been disappointed. If you care about participating in building the future, you walked away from the conference recharged, motivated, and excited about the possibilities.
The following slides will cover 3 hyper trends that we saw dominate the conversation and define the culture of SXSW 2016.
FUTURE PLATFORMS: CHALLENGES and OPPORTUNITIES
Virtual Reality was everywhere at SXSW 2016. One could not walk two blocks in the greater Downtown Austin area without stumbling upon an event activation that incorporated VR experiences. If there was any debate about the viability of VR in the consumer space, participation and enthusiasm at this year’s conference all but settled it: Virtual Reality and it’s close cousin Augmented Reality will become the next multi-million (if not –billion) dollar industries in short order. The momentum is undeniable.
Warm interfaces fueled by Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are manifesting themselves through accessible consumer-facing product such as the Amazon Echo, an IoT device that is challenging Google Nest, Apple HomeKit, and others to be “Jarvis” for everyday consumers. As more brands rush to build apps (or in the case of Echo, voice-activated “skills”) that involve user inputs other than screen taps or swipes, the industry is realizing that the new UX/UI requires an entirely different way of strategizing, designing, and programming.
VR and A.I.-fueled IoT will take years to fully form. Advertising, Media, and Marketing implications are not self-evident, but they are definitely in the pipeline and should not be ignored. The time is now to decide to get ahead of the curve and develop expertise and thought leadership in these platforms to establish agency competitive advantage.
EVERYTHING (INCLUDING BRAND ACTIVATION) is BIGGER in TEXAS
While panels and talks provided valuable insights, attendee buzz this year was dominated by big brand activations and “post-digital” storytelling. Brands took over buildings, parking lots, and roamed the streets in an effort to be bigger, more impactful, and more memorable.
Activations ranged from the algorithm-fueled futuristic IBM Cognitive Studio, where Watson decided which mixed drink would be served based on big data, to old-school tactics that kept things fun and simple. An example of the latter was the “Google Claw” inside of the Google Fiber building, which was reminiscent a carnival/arcade claw, super-sized to reward lucky attendees with Nexus tablets and Chromecasts.
As is the case every year, many networks and their flagship programming made a splash. USA Network recreated a version of Coney Island, complete with a full-sized Ferris wheel, to promote it’s breakout hit show Mr. Robot. HBO promoted two shows with different but complimentary strategies: Game of Thrones took over a large Downtown Austin building to create the very immersive Hall of Faces, which projected selfies onto an interactive version of the show’s House of Black and White. Promotion for tech culture comedy Silicon Valley took a more environmental approach, with Pied Piper fronting itself as an actual startup, with ads on buses, pedicabs and posters throughout Austin, and a premiere sponsorship of the highly trafficked Mashable House.
Brands ranging from Samsung, Dell, Sony, 3M, Toyota, McDonalds, Gatorade, and Refinery29, among others, created notable experiences that focused on deep engagement, storytelling, and interactivity to maximize time spent vs. less valuable quick exposures.
Official figures have yet to be released, but it truly felt like brand square footage broke records this year. SXSW 2016 lived up to it’s reputation as being the “Super Bowl of Brand Activations.”
THE #ANALOG LIFESTYLE
This rise in Analog objects and experiences can be attributed to a few factors: the need for brands to differentiate their swag so that attendees actually use and keep them, the surprise and delight irony of custom physical items when the industry is focusing on digital hyper-personalization, and a marketplace trend towards analog products as a backlash to digital overload; sales of film cameras and vinyl records are up YoY for the past three years.
- Pandora’s custom totes, with artist-airbrushed names and messaging
- Moo’s hand pressed postcards, updated daily with a local Austin theme
- Gatorade’s custom, personalized water bottle and hydration formula
- American Greetings had an #Analog themed building takeover, hosting talks by analog gurus, and featuring typewriters, record players, and a card station manned by master illustrators and calligraphers
- La Tortilla Bendita created custom tortillas imprinted with selfies. As one would expect, the face tortilla station was one of the most popular activations of the entire conference. Their pitch? “Finally, A Chance To Eat Your Face”