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SXSW 2014 Traffic Report

We sent Traffic's (& Taxi's) Strategic Development Manager, Anthony McCormack, to SXSW 2014 in Austin, Texas, the largest interactive, film and music conference in the world. It's the centre of all things new in tech, film, advertising, marketing and music. This is what Ant learned...

SXSW 2014 Report: Privacy, wearables, be genuine & just create

It may have been just over two weeks since South by Southwest 2014 finished up, but it takes that long to distil it all and make sense of what just happened.

SXSW is a magical place where all of the great tech, film, advertising and music minds are all in one place at one time, and, all are willing to share their knowledge and ideas. A place where Jarvis Cocker entertains you at a party one night and the next morning explains his creative process and then teaches you how to fly. A place where Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are live streamed in to a panel discussion by day and find yourself at dinner with a great group of interesting people by night (or getting a free Sailor Jerry tattoo)….

So, what did a marketer working across production and advertising get out of SXSW 2014?

Shut the door on your way out.

SXSW started off with discussions centred around NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange focussing on data security and online privacy. Coming to the conclusions that data security will become a premium paid service. If we want privacy and data security we’re going to have pay for it. Whether the majority of consumers will be willing to pay for it is yet to be seen. At the moment there is plenty of noise about privacy, however currently we’re all more than happy to get services like Gmail and Facebook for free. All we have to do is give up access to our information and data. As these are major advertising platforms first and foremost this has significant implications for the advertising industry and how brands target and reach their audiences.

Now you see me. Now you don’t.

Austin was also buzzing about the ever increasing popularity of anonymous, ephemeral digital networks like ‘Snapchat’ and ‘Anonymity’. This is supposedly less in response to privacy concerns and more as a result of what is seen as the over sharing and permanent digital footprint channels like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. New apps called Whisper and Secret that let users anonymously share secrets were other anonymous platforms that SXSW was talking about - and using.

Put it on me.

This year at SXSW wearables went from a bit of a gimmick that will be useful in the future, to the revealing of useful products and applications. Sure there were plenty of people wearing Google Glass, but that’s just the start. Wearables that are just around the corner unveiled at SXSW include an augmented reality motorbike helmet that allow access to apps and other information safely and a bracelet that can authenticate the wearer’s identity by reading their unique cardiac rhythm. Next is mobile communications moving to being connected without the need to be attached to an interruptive device like a smartphone. Successful wearable tech is going to be all about putting technology second and the focus squarely on the objective and the user experience. Oh, and it really won’t be long before we can be connected without a device at all thanks to some ground-breaking bio tech.

I can see clearly now.

Increasingly we are shifting to a much more visual vocabulary to communicate with each other,  and with brands, using images, illustrations, emoji, infographics, animated GIFs and of course video. Text is being supplanted by visual devices. And with this shift has come the increased focus on visual content as a key communication language. By visualising information we can quickly communicate complex information, translate the complexity to clarity and speed comprehension. SXSW organisers were on the front foot with illustrators translating the main panels into visual representations of what was covered. 

What you want. When you want.

It was clear all over SXSW 2014 that video on demand is growing fast and everyone wants in. There is of course the leader in Netflix with groundbreaking series like House of Cards, and then comes everyone else slugging it out including: Hulu, Fetch, YouTube, Apple, Amazon, Yahoo Screen, as well as free to air & cable channels’ catch up services. 

VOD naturally lends itself to viewing on a variety of devices including mobiles and tablets leading the conversation in Austin to the obvious progression of creating seamless interactive and immersive multiplatfrom ‘things’. Sharing deeper background information on characters, fully developing the ‘world’ of the content, interacting with characters, affecting the story lines and even seamless interactive videos through things like Interlude’s Tree House are great fits for VOD and video content in General. 

A side note on exciting video content spied at SXSW is Interlude’s Tree House, a platform that creates truly seamless, audience friendly interactive videos. A real “this is brilliant!” moment was Interlude demonstrating an interactive video that seamlessly responded to the decisions of the audience made in realtime through their smartphones.

With the rise of VOD has come the dramatic increase of episodic content consumption. Naturally House of Cards and Netflix comes to mind first, with a flood of VOD platforms creating their own original episodic series - many launching at SXSW 2014. Tellingly, all of these new episodic series at SXSW referenced that “it’s just like Netflix releasing House of Cards”… ‘Cutting the cord’ of no longer subscribing to cable TV in the States went hand-in-hand with the VOD discussions  and episodic content, with a lot of people already only relying on the internet and VOD services for their video content. This speaks volumes about the quality episodic content people want, as well as how they want to consume it - when they want, how they want and where they want. That includes binging on an entire series in one weekend if they so wish. A key for me in highlighting the dramatic growth of episodic content and it’s importance was reflected in Sundance’s Chris Horton telling me that they are working on including and even creating their own episodic content for Sundance. Episodic on demand video content is here to stay. Your move traditional broadcast.

Man it’s loud in here!

One thing that you don’t need to go to a panel at SXSW to experience is the sheer number of brands that descend on Austin all vying for your attention and creating noise. With Austin being the sole focus of the tech, film and music world for 10 days, brimming with early adopters and influencers, there’s no wondering why this is happening. For me, it’s more about how it is being done. 

There is just so much noise from brands coming at you from every possible angle that it’s really hard to hear anything at all. Everyone is there: FMCG brands, telecos, tech companies, films, music streaming services, accommodation websites and app developers right the way through to accounting firms. They are all yelling as loud as they can for your attention, your Facebook like, your tweet or your Instagram post. Some were heard loud and clear while others were, well, just noise and I didn’t notice them… I can’t tell you how many parties, meet ups, gigs and events I went to that I had no idea who had put it on or why. I went to a really great party that had real live kittens and cats to play with while they poured free margaritas down my throat with some great bands playing. I still have absolutely no idea who put that party on or why. I just went there because it sounded like a good idea. It was. 

Don’t get me wrong, going to great parties, seeing top bands and drinking for free at open bars is great fun and a really valuable way to meet interesting people at SXSW. But as a marketer, I can’t help but wonder at why some of the brands were doing what they are doing, and even what some brands are doing there at all. I can imagine there are a lot of conversations in meeting rooms that come up with “we can’t afford to not be there”. Which turns out to be a multi-million dollar “we’re here because we have to be”… For me relevance seems to have fallen out of the plane on the way to Austin. It’s pretty obvious, but the brand needs to be relevant and what the brand does and says needs to be relevant and add value to their audience. Spotify putting on a heap of live music of up-and-coming bands at SXSW makes perfect sense. The cat people, not so much. Oh, and I liked and tweeted about a bunch of brands for some cool free stuff and then unliked them. I don’t remember which ones… 

Like I mentioned earlier, Austin during SXSW is a unique place, but if this sort of noise from brands competing so fiercely for attention is a marker for what’s to come and we need to make sure we have something relevant and meaningful to say. Not just in sponsorships and experiential executions, but everything brands do has to be meaningful, from video content to product development and everything in between. Which leads in nicely to the next point…

Really real. For real.

‘Genuine’ and ‘real’ are words that brands have been throwing around all day, everyday for a while now. Sometimes they have meaning, other times it’s just another empty word. So much so that sometimes it can be seen as a cliche. However at SXSW 2014 the people that were really making impactful and creative things are the people that are truly genuine. No spin. No b.s.. They have a purpose. Everything they do stays true to that purpose and overwhelmingly they are focussed on the people - what they want, what they need and what makes their experiences better. From wearable tech creators to commercials filmmakers, right the way through to P Diddy’s new multi platform music network ‘Revolt’, being genuine, authentic, truthful, is the key foundation to success and engaging your audience well beyond a simple like and a share.

Engagement is no longer really up for debate. The consensus at SXSW was that engagement needs to be something authentic (there’s that word again), relevant (and that one) and ideally tangible. Consistently. Not just one off opportunistic leveraging of lightbulb moments.  

Cut out the road blocks and just create.

The recurring conversation at SXSW 2014 that really resonated with me was that making and doing - rather than planning, researching and discussing - will be, and kind of already should be, the way forward to creating genuinely meaningful and useful things. From filmmakers to advertisers, developers and new product makers, just getting stuck in and creating is what we all should be doing. 

So in the end the key takeaway for me from SXSW 2014 didn’t come from just one panel, a meeting or a random encounter at a bar. Instead, across everything that is SXSW the main thing that I gained was this: be brave, back yourself and your ideas, cut out the uncessary road blocks and just create. It’s easier said than done, and is probably something that’s been said a thousand times before, but it was a common thread amongst the people kicking goals across all disciplines at SXSW. The confidence and conviction are there for me now more than ever that this is the way forward for production and advertising.

In case you were wondering, I didn’t end up getting a Sailor Jerry Tattoo. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I got there too late in the night and the tattooist had packed up…

Posted 15th Apr, 14 by Anthony McCormack, Strategic Developmennt