It’s sort of passé to talk about how much SXSW has changed over the years because, well, it has and there’s no going back. If you feel the need to reminisce or wallow in the past, you can read this, this, this, this and this.
Or you can put you mind in a more upbeat mode and read 6 Reasons Why SXSW is Still Awesome, written after last year’s SXSW.
In any case, let’s move on. Did you go to SXSW this year? What did you think? Did you get out of it what you expected? More? Less?
Let’s take a look at some of what transpired during this year’s SXSW Interactive.
That Woman Everyone Fell For on Tinder
To promote the movie Ex Machina, which was premiering at SXSW this year, the producers of the film created a “fake” Tinder profile under the name Ava. Ava engaged with many people but the link in her bio let to the film’s promotional website. Turns out, Ava was actually Swedish actress Alicia Vikander who appears in the film. Some thought the promotion was a bit porn bot-ish. Others loved it.
Marketers Get Creepy With Customer Data
In a session entitled Malevolent Marketing led by Robbie Whiting, founder of San Francisco-based Argonaut and Razorfish executive Garrick Schmitt, dressed entirely in black, took a look at the various ways marketers are, in essence, taking advantage of people by misusing customer data. Putting it to the audience, what seemed to bother people the most was the proliferation of Internet of Things devices which gather personal information and TV sets with always on listening technology.
When the moderators asked the audience to develop, on the fly, a malevolent marketing-style product, they came up with Perfect You. As Forbes contributor George Anders summarized, “It would consist of a three-dimensional body scanner at the entrance to clothing stores, which would spew its results into a series of photo-rendering displays throughout the store — showing digitally manipulated pictures of shoppers wearing various clothes that could be bought on the spot.” Creepy?
FireChat Takes Home Innovation Award
As is always the case, innovation is front and center at SXSW and at this year’s SXSW Innovation Awards off the grid chat app FireChat took home the Innovation in Connecting People award.
FireChat, developed by San Francisco startup Open Garden in 2012, rose to prominence
last August at the Burning Man festival in Black Rock, Nevada, where cell phone service is scarce. Currently, it has about 5 million users.
Of the win, Open Garden CEO Micha Benoliel said, “We’re ecstatic that FireChat was chosen for such a respected award at this year’s festival. Our mission is to connect people around the world. The recognition from this team of judges and our peers is wonderful and exciting for our team as we continue our efforts.”
Brands Still Spending Boatloads of Money (And Providing Free Food and Drink For All)
While we’re trying to keep things positive here, brands were still king at SXSW this year taking over entire restaurants and erecting full on structures (Bates Motel) in an effort to, well, WSJ’s Mike Shields described it best writing, “It’s about marketers marketing their marketing efforts to other marketers.
National Geographic had an #EscapetheCold structure that would simulate Alaska’s icy conditions to promote the brand’s Life Below Zero. Bausch + Lomb erected a “Lens Lounge.” HBO sponsored pedicabs to promote its Silicon Valley show. And let’s not forget the long-running Fast Company Grill which for the past five years or so has been providing a branded experience along with educational content and, yes, free food and drink.
There really wasn’t anywhere you could go that wasn’t, in some way, branded or sponsored. Some argue this sullies the pristine origins of the SXSW experience. Others, perhaps tossing their hands up, simply admit that, well, the upside is that everything is free because some brand is sponsoring it. And, with the high cost of attending SXSW, saving money on food and drink is a benefit many appreciate.
Some Things Never Change. Others Do.
Perhaps perfectly summarizing the essence of SXSW, collaborative economy expert and Crowd Companies Founder Jeremiah Owyang posted on Facebook the Ten Signs You Were At SXSW in 2015:
1) You lost your voice.
2) You have more than 3 wrist bands on in the morning.
3) You have more business cards than you remember receiving.
4) You got stickers from a startup that’s missing vowels.
5) You’re actually proud you tried the McDonald’s new flavor fries.
6) You rode the Hootsuite bike bar.
7) You were on Meerkat Friday night, but never again.
8) You took more than 4 selfies with your Facebook friends.
10) You’re so hungover you didn’t realize that we skipped nine.
I would add “You hung out at the JW Marriot” because, you know, it was new and, well, we’re all like Lemmings in some ways and that’s what we do.
Apparently, There Are Still SXSW Haters (Who, Luckily, Don’t Hate Everything)
One can’t really summarize the SXSW experience without realizing that the changes which have occurred over the years are not agreeable to all. One such person is Havas Senior VP of Strategy and Innovation, Tom Goodwin, who wrote, “The festival thrives on the energy and optimism of youth, but suffers for a lack of adult supervision. It’s a cathedral to all things popular that don’t matter, from GrumpyCat to Meerkat. It’s one big meme, that lives and dies as rapidly and pointlessly.”
And hammering marketers for their “irrational exuberance, Goodwin added, “It’s the un-dwindling confidence that iBeacons somehow will be embraced by people or that augmented reality in the shopping center will be fun. I’m not sure these Brooklynites and Palo Altans have ever seen how real people behave and yet we give them a chance to bolster their opinions and feed their ignorance by hanging out only with people like themselves.”
Hmm. Harsh? Well Goodwin isn’t entirely a hater and did come up with something to love about SXSW: diversity of thought. He complains about the sameness of panels at most other events he attends over the course of the year but appreciates the wide-ranging topics and opinions that reveal themselves each year at SXSW.
He notes, “From gender equality to the role of art, trans-humanism, and privacy issues, SXSW each and every year brings together (a few of) the best minds in the world to further our industry.”
Nothing that SXSW has become “a good metaphor for the Internet, it’s too big, too much, but it’s democratic and accessible to all,” he suggests that, just like the internet, SXSW needs a good search engine to make the plethora of growing content more manageable.
As Always, Panels Give Good Content
I attended a few panels. One was hosted by Marketo and held offsite at the Marketo Lounge on 6th Street. The marketing automation company hosted several panels along with parties and a CMO dinner.
On Tuesday morning, Marketo hosted an Irish Breakfast and hosted a panel entitled Ask the CMO. CMOs from Mashable, Bloomberg, Marketo and Equinox were present and discussed issues of importance to CMOs. Chiefly, it was all about keeping the creative spirit alive and not allowing it to get buried beneath today’s proliferation of big data. Additionally, the panel encouraged attendees to ensure the brands they represent take on a more human persona which becomes ever more important in an increasingly one to one marketing world.
Deirdre Bigley, CMO of Bloomberg, discussed the importance of gauging the temperature of the social media waters and when or when not to jump in. She cited the February incident during which a couple of llamas began running around a Phoenix-area retirement community and became a social media phenomenon. The brand ultimately decided to capitalize on the event with this witty tweet:
— Bloomberg LP (@Bloomberg) February 26, 2015
The Entrepreneurs Lounge
Hosted atop Fogo de Chao every year for eight years running, The Entrepreneurs Lounge is one of the best networking events that occurs during SXSW. A tightly curated list ensures that you’ll be able to mix and mingle with the best and the brightest in the marketing, advertising and startup worlds.
Each night from 5PM to 9PM during SXSW, connections are made, business deals are proposed and closed and life-long relationships are made. Oh and let’s not forget the endless supply of Brazilian meat that’s passed continuously to guests along with the caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail. Together, the two made for network dining perfection.
Decoded Fashion Explored the Convergence of Fashion and Technology
The breadth and depth of SXSW content is truly impressive. If you have an interest, it’s well addressed. I attended a series of sessions at the JW Marriot put on by Decoded Fashion, an organization at the convergence of fashion, beauty, retail and technology whose mission is to expose the fashion community to new ideas, demystify technology and foster creative partnerships between tech startups, designers, retailers and media professionals in highly interactive summit formats.
A series of panels addressed fashion hackathons, how to incorporate technology with fashion, wearable technology, the ability of mobile to tie online and physical retail together and how data can drive improvements in retail.
Speakers represented brands including John Lewis, Nieman Marcus, Simon, ASOS, Google, Simon Venture Group, TechCrunch, Gap and others.
Along with the series of panels, Decoded Fashion also included a mentorship hub in which those working in related fields could set up and conduct one-on-one meetings with industry experts. Each mentor offered startups and emerging designers feedback and advice so that those startups and emerging designers can further hone and improve their offerings.
And, Of Course, GSD&M Threw a Massive Party
Each year, Austin-based ad agency GSD&M takes advantage of the fact that each year their fair city becomes a mecca for ad and marketing types. What better way to pimp yourself than to ply the industry with free food and alcohol?
An estimated 3,500 attended the agency’s party at which attendees could sample Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Pacifico beer and participate in a photo contest sponsored by Southwest. Winners of that contest were awarded front row seats—in the form of actual Southwest airplane seats—to the evening’s musical performances which included surprise guest Grammy winner, Gary Clark.
The exhibit hall was full of activity and plenty to see:
A&E erected an even bigger Bates Motel display this year:
Many of the thoughts and topics discussed in panels during the 5 day Interactive conference were shared visually:
Only at a tech/marketing-related industry party is it totally cool for one person to be partying like crazy and the other to detach and stare at one’s phone:
This guy always makes an appearance at SXSW. This time from the sky:
It’s not SXSW without an Adrian Grenier siting:
And, lastly, this guy got lucky: