SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST

The SXSW Interactive festival brings together cutting-edge technologies and digital creativity from a plethora of experts, brands, agencies and organizations. With more than 35,000 attendees from nearly 100 countries, this global group of interactive influencers convene over the course of five days to enjoy compelling presentations and panels from the brightest minds in emerging technology, as well as to network, share best practices, and receive inspiration from more than 1,100 sessions and 2,400 speakers.

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A TASTE OF EMOBILITY

AN INSIDE LOOK AT THE NEXT WAVE OF PERSONAL TRANSPORATION

In 2019, we saw Uber Jump, Lime, Bird and Lyft electric scooters take over the streets of Austin during SXSW. With a cost of around 15 cents per minute, these scooters allowed attendees to blaze through the festival – cutting travel times from half hour car rides to mere minutes by scooter. And while the fleets of scooters littering the city sidewalks might not have thrilled Austin locals, at the end of the day, the convenience for SXSW attendees outweighed the eyesore.

From a brand marketer’s perspective, one of the biggest brand misses of SXSW might have been advertisers not taking advantage of branding the scooters which were never out of sight during the festival.

As e-bikes and scooters multiply in major metropolitan cities and urban areas, it will be interesting to see what impact these new vehicles have on local populations and their transportation marketplace. Taxis and car share services are sure to feel some pressure as more consumers become comfortable with navigating the city by scooter.

BREAKING FREE OF THE RECTANGULAR SCREEN

IMMERSIVE CONTENT EXPERIENCES AT SXSW

We’ve officially entered a new era of immersive media and spatial computing, confirmed by the numerous SXSW experiences and sessions that showcased the latest and greatest in AR/VR/MR innovations. At the festival, entire rooms were dedicated to immersive VR experiences and more panels than ever focused in on the creation of MR content.

One tech-related trend that got us especially excited, was the development of immersive technology that blends the virtual and physical worlds to create truly engaging and captivating experiences for users. For example, one of the most unique mixed reality experiences at the festival was Under Armour + SAP’s fully immersive basketball shootout, which featured full-body tracking and mind-blowing graphics that put the player on a futuristic court. The activation’s unique meld of athletics and data/gaming, made it a memorable adventure for all that participated.

Walking away from all of these unique AR, VR and MR discussions and experiences, one of our largest takeaways from the festival is that brands need to begin strategizing and inserting themselves into the impactful (and magical) immersive media space.

DON’T DO SXSW ALONE

UNLIKELY PARTNERSHIPS ARE THE KEY TO A SUCCESSFUL FESTIVAL

From NBCU/Comcast teaming up with HQ Trivia, to HBO’s Game of Thrones pairing up with the American Red Cross, our team saw many unexpected partnerships take shape at SXSW this year, which gave way to even more exciting activations and integrations.

It was refreshing to watch seemingly dissimilar companies, platforms and technologies, merge their goals and specialties together to create completely new brand experiences, while also balancing their own individual brand messages. By finding partners to help bring their activations to life, brands are able to gain the attention of each others’ audiences as they come together for a singular memorable experience.

Plus, it never hurts to share the costs!

THE ETHICS & IMPACT OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF AI

While the excitement surrounding AI innovations is as strong as ever, discussions about this intelligent tech’s ethical implications also needs to be top of mind.

At SXSW, several sessions delved into the potential unintended consequences of some forms of AI. For example, deepfake technology, which uses machine-learning and AI to manipulate videos and swap faces to an eerily real degree, has raised some of the most serious concerns.

We heard diverse perspectives – from military leaders to film execs and the creators of autonomous vehicles – weigh in on the implications of AI and what safety nets are needed to ensure proper use of this tech. Multiple experts emphasized one safety measure in particular: the need for “explainable” AI, which are AI systems that can explain the rationale behind their decision-making. Only then, can we truly understand how humans have injected their own ethics or unintentional bias into AI coding.

Spark Foundry also got into the AI conversation at SXSW by showcasing their AI Audio Ad product with their partner AI Music, who they met at SXSW 2018. The new audio product allows marketers to quickly produce audio ads that match the music played in the ad with the preferences of the consumer – ultimately allowing brands to create personalized audio ads at scale.

CANNABIZ HAS ARRIVED

THE CHILLEST TREND AT SXSW

While marijuana is not yet legal in Texas, it was a hot topic at SXSW. In areas where the drug is legal, “Cannabiz” has proven to be the next big boom industry. New retail experiences, products and solutions were readily discussed throughout the festival – touching on how brands can be built and infused with both THC & 100%-legal CBD products and services.

Throughout Austin, there were a slew of CBD pop-ups and vendors dolling out samples to promote cannabis-derived products’ relaxing and therapeutic capabilities. Major brands are investing in, if not already looking to incorporate, THC & CBD products into their portfolio.

Some of the most sought after information was how startups and businesses in the cannabis space are dealing with and pioneering regulation, brand positioning, and product development. Without a doubt, Cannabiz is the chillest new trend.