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Is interactive the Cinderella or ugly sister of SXSW?

By Gordon Young, Editor

March 12, 2013 | 4 min read

Interactive is deemed by some to be the ugly sister at the SXSW ball, desperately trying to squeeze its feet into the glass slippers normally associated with film and music.

However, Jonathan Nelson, CEO of digital at Omnicom Group, believes that that even if the geeks don't inherit the earth, they certainly now have a key role to play as far as the creative industries are concerned.

"These are very exciting times for analytics," he said, "what we are seeing is the consolidation of Web 2.0. Facebook and Twitter are now mature companies, and we have been able to learn the lesson and now understand what consumers are saying. To use the old cliche we really are able to get the right product to the right people at the right time."

Nelson, has responsibility for Omnicom's quest to transform itself into a digital business and was speaking from a social media command post which had been established by PR firm Fleishman Hillard, one of over 200 businesses that are in the group.

"Not long ago PR was a right brain business," he said, "But now it is also about left brain issues such as analysis.

"In the past it has not been known for analytics, but it has had to move that way. It is an example of how we are changing the culture of the business."

Fleishman Hillard was using SXSW to demonstrate its Black Box command post. Apparently it is in the process of establishing six such command posts across General Motors as the car giant puts social media at the heart of its business.

It is the sort of set up which was deployed by Oreo at the recent SuperBowl. The investment meant that when the power failed during the match they we able to get a 'You Can Dunk in the Dark' work out which become a social media sensation.

It will allow them to measure sentiment, engagement levels, negative and positive feedback, gender and geography of social media comments in real time.

But crucially the system is not just about tracking. It is also about discovery, according to the agency. For example it can tell how negative or positive mentions of Chevrolet are within the context of wider discussions.

For example, when mentioned alongside Justin Timberlake the mentions are positive. But in the context of the mafia, they are more negative.

But as well as what can be concluded, what makes these systems particularly interesting is the instant information they make available and instant interventions they make possible.

The term 'real time' comes up a lot in any conversation with Nelson, "The feed back is in real time, the analytics is in real time and then we can now buy advertising and response with appropriate messages in real time."

However, Nelson argues that this new ecosystem is rapidly evolving. He reports that much of the buzz he has picked up around SXSW this year is around video.

"Video is becoming key. There is lots going on behind the scenes in terms of how it is going to be monetised. An ecosystem is being developed to measure, distribute and buy it.

"Online video is not as clean as traditional TV. But we are bringing the best of digital practice, in terms of making it more accountable, interactive and more targeted.

"You are about to see a lot more traditional content moving over to digital platforms. Live events and sports you still might watch on television but all other content you can watch on any device you want."

But will such a change break the revenue model of traditional agencies, who still seem dependent on traditional TV budgets?

"Agencies have already been transitioning. The days of 15 per cent commission are long gone. Clients will not spend less. They will just spend in different ways."

And much of that investment will go into collecting data and serving relevant.

"Very soon, a car company will be serving specific ads to specific people. For example if it is General Motors they might know if a consumer has searched for a silver car, and make sure the commercial aimed at them is silver. It might include specific local landmarks, a map to the dealership, a special offer if a test drive is booked right away. That is the sort of systems that are being worked on."

SXSW was the first time that Blackbox and the latest element of the system, Bottlenose, was being shown off externally by the agency.


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