DDB Chicago SXSW Meerkat

All eyes on Austin: what’s on the horizon for marketers at SXSW?


By Doug Zanger, Americas Editor

March 10, 2016 | 6 min read

“It’s shaping up to be a very interesting SXSW Interactive,” said Jonathan Nelson, CEO of Omnicom Digital. “There is certainly great validation of the event with the President and First Lady coming to address the conference. But I’m excited to see the newly-launched Virtual/Augmented Reality track.”

Started in 1994, the interactive part of the SXSW conference has been the vanguard of interesting and groundbreaking technology with live video streaming app Meerkat making the largest splash (though it has been having a tough time of late with new competition in the mix) last year. Other startups, like Twitter and Foursquare have also seen their days in the Austin sun and, though it is certainly a large-scale event, Nelson feels that it still carries tremendous weight.

“People frequently complain that SXSW has gotten too big and too corporate. I disagree. I have been attending SXSW for more than two decades and it continues to be a vibrant venue with an abundance of passion and creative energy,” said Nelson.

As for this year’s edition, Nelson feels that the shiny new objects will also make way for more deep and tangible conversation.

“Beyond AI and robots, a consistent theme we will see this year, whether you’re an indie band, tech start-up, or a brand, is the different ways to make an emotional connection with their consumer,” noted Nelson. “In this age of rapid technological changes, its not the 0’s and 1’s of the digital revolution, but the ‘oohs and aahs’ of an innovation, great story or music that will excite people into action. It’s combining the heart with the science that will be critical in the next big breakthrough idea at SXSW.”

In addition to Nelson, other Omnicom agencies and brands are looking forward to the festivities in Texas and offered up their predictions and what to expect.

Azher Ahmed, SVP, Director of Digital Operations, DDB Chicago

SXSW continues transitioning from its roots as a tech conference into an expression of modern, digital culture. With large brands like McDonalds making a splash last year and President Obama this year, tech culture truly is becoming pop culture.

With SXSW's buzzing assortment of startups, agencies, large organizations and brands there’s an abundance of creative, technology-driven canvases through which we can connect, inspire and innovate. I’m excited to see where advertising, in particular, evolves within this mix and finds areas to reinvent itself to drive greater value, connections, commerce and community.

Chris Lee, Director of Brand Partnerships and Social Engagement, Esurance

People attending the festival this year can expect to hear a lot of conversation around virtual reality, Internet of Things (IoT), and data. In the event marketing and experiential space, virtual reality is a growing trend and brands are trying to figure out how to leverage that technology to bring people a new, innovative experience.

IoT is another hot topic that encompasses a lot of different areas. The area we’re paying special attention to is around the connected car and the future auto industry. What’s interesting is that we’re seeing the auto industry converge with the tech industry more so than ever before, which is already starting to change people’s driving behavior and, in turn, how we approach our business. And lastly, trends around data will continue to dominate conversations – from privacy and data…, to converting data from wearables into a forward-looking plan… to general effective use of data across industries.

Darrell Jursa, SVP, Integration, Resolution Media

Every year in Austin, I hit the ground hoping to find unicorns and rainbows. I’m looking for the ten people who change the way I look at challenges and opportunities. What I dig the most is walking the often-forgotten Tradeshow and Startup Village to find people so passionate about what they’re working on that it’s tempting to spend your entire time there. Here’s what I’ll be looking for this year as I wander the floor:

Big Data Storytelling

Telling great stories visually to show how data can solve recurring problems, not just when we want to make it look pretty

VR & the Real World

Historically, virtual reality gets people excited and disappoints them quickly. I’m looking for VR that gets people excited enough to take the glasses off…and put them on again.

“Guerrilla” Applied Technology

While certain folks are launching balloons into the air to connect the world, I’m interested in how people are using existing technology and applying them to real world problems that connect us as humans.

That’s what I’m looking for. After that, I’m hoping the rainbows don’t escape my bag as I sit on the banks of the Colorado River, sipping a Shiner in the company of unicorns.

Amanda Levy, Chief Marketing Officer, Critical Mass

Another year at SXSW! Beautiful 70+ degree-days, barbecue everywhere, the latest in IoT and connected homes, and a ferocious battle in the streets between hoverboards and pedicabs. And tech is everywhere! Start-ups are piling in, hoping against hope that their newly minted technological masterpiece will break through the clutter and garner attention from big brands and the press. For insiders, it’s dazzling.

What is increasingly missing from this rush to innovate, however, is the consumer. There is no shortage of complex new gadgets, even vaster troves of data, and ever-fancier ideas. But a conversation about designing better experiences for the people who will purchase this stuff one day? Not so much.

Ultimately, brands and products that offer meaningful experiences will be the winners. Meaningful experiences (and services) add value, reduce complexity, solve consumer needs, make things easier, earn trust and may even entertain. My hope for SXSW 2016 is a greater emphasis on meaningful, useful experiences that truly make consumers' lives better. Brands that meet this expectation will be unstoppable.

DDB Chicago SXSW Meerkat

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