SXSW 2018: Mark Pickering and Spencer Willis on what to start and what to stop

  • Voices
  • April 9, 2018
  • Mark Pickering
SXSW 2018: Mark Pickering and Spencer Willis on what to start and what to stop

Brand Spanking director and creative strategist Mark Pickering and Z Energy creative technologist Spencer Willis wrap up their SXSW experience with what's on the rise, what was impressive, things that need to stop and things marketers need to do more of. 

Five things that are on the rise:

  1. VR, AR and MR at Sporting events: Speakers from the NFL, NHL and NASCAR were all pushing boundaries with their activations at stadia using VR, AR and MR, as well as looking to enhance the fan experience for music festivals and gigs – with the key focus on providing fans with a ‘surprise and delight’ moment that would not be possible without the technology. Think facing off against the top NHL hockey goal scorer and being goalie via a VR headset.
  2. Productive Play: The Pinterest team spoke about the ability of social and online platforms wanting to get users away from their screens and doing things that enhance their real life experiences offline.  They noted that they are really aware of how screens and technology are causing the brain to be rewired (particularly with young people) and were encouraging people to learn with their platform and then play in the real world.
  3. China: It’s not new news but the Chinese government is investing hundreds of billions of dollars into artificial intelligence, genomic editing, green technologies and renewable energy sources, smart farming systems and space exploration. China has been quietly and strategically acquiring US tech secrets via joint ventures and minority investment structures, giving it a tactical business, geopolitical and military advantage over not just the US but also Japan, Korea, and the E.U. No other country’s government is racing towards the future with as much force and velocity as China, and this could signal big shifts in the balance of geopolitical power in the years ahead.
  4. Using Sound Instead of Vision to Augment Reality: The other big tech trend that came through was using sound to create Virtual and Augmented reality experiences. Sony were particularly strong in developing these for your home or event with their Ghostly Whisper installation and Bose are now developing AR glasses which will not interfere with your vision, but will enhance your experience via sound – for gaming, shopping, health and lifestyle.
  5. Advanced Robotics: Both Sony and Panasonic really turned it on in the future tech stakes, showcasing the future of human/tech engagement and home living, the majority of which involved some form of robotics. From the relaunch of an upgraded Aibo Dog with Sony at their WOW Studio to a cute sushi-making robot at the Panasonic House, the drive to develop social robots to connect more readily with humans and their needs was strongly in evidence. 

Five things that impressed me:

  1. The Sheer Size and Number of Brand Activations: As an experiential marketer, SXSW was a Disneyland world of brand experiences to take in and engage with. I counted over 60 brands activating at one time, with a new one popping up every night – and this was in the first week alone! Everyone from Snickers Bars to Google and Mercedes was on show and with money being no object in connecting with an early-adopter crowd, the use of revolutionary technology to connect with guests was everywhere.
  2. SXSW’s Film Stream: has now become one of the key dates in the calendar for releases of both movies and TV shows – particularly for sci-fi and tech-based creative. By far the most popular activations at this year’s events were the Westworld immersive experience and the Ready Player One experience – both launching new TV and movie iterations. They were almost impossible to get in to.
  3. VR/AR Continues to Advance Headlong: This tech was everywhere at the event, not just for big brands who showcased its potential – from Dell, Accenture, Panasonic or Sony, but also for the arts community who are using it in new and creative ways. Check out the Colossal Wave project which was put on by the Arts Council of England and British Underground, which used sound to create amazing VR creatures.
  4. The Human Experience: The Westworld experience (although a sci-fi series) relied on actors and humans. Sony’s WOW Studio showcased some amazing technology to enhance real life and brand experiences, from photo booths with Snapchat filters built in (expect these at your next wedding or activation soon!) to gesture-based gaming and interaction via projection and cameras. This could also be seen in the huge number of brand ambassadors wandering the city – handing out samples and gifts, playing games and gathering data via smartphone or running scavenger hunts for merchandise and prizes, which were hugely popular.
  5. Brand Activations using all Six Senses: Along with the fun and cuddles from goats at the Viceland activation, there were a number of brand experiences on show that involved utilising all the senses, with particular emphasis on smell. Being one of the most evocative of the senses for memory, the Sony WOW Studio showed off how it is integrating its newly acquired scent distribution technology to enhance creative gaming experiences, as evidenced in their Interactive Cube gaming setup where players used their whole body and senses to design and immerse themselves completely in a game environment. This technology is now being picked up by major theme parks around the world to enhance their visitor experience.

Five things that need to stop:

  1. The Traditional Smartphone: Amy Webb from the Future Today seminar sees that wearables will become the key for the next decade and not our traditional phones. However screens won’t completely disappear, with roll-able and foldable screens and keyboards being built into wearables and other formats.
  2. FOBO: If you’re the kind of person who feels uneasy when your phone runs out of battery or when you can’t get a decent WiFi signal, you’re suffering from FOBO, or the “fear of being offline.” The Word Health Organisation is about to announce it has listed “gaming disorder” as a mental health condition and as such the pressure is on tech organisations such as Google, Apple and Facebook to help curb this condition.
  3. Apps Working Online Only: As US consumers spend more than five hours a day on their mobile devices and much of this time is spent commuting or being on the move. So, a number of the world’s most popular apps are adapting their product to work offline as well. Keep an eye out for the big players, especially in the news aggregator area.
  4. Ignoring Older Consumers: Diversity is a major issue across the board in modern Western society and yet even now marketers continue to ignore the older demographic in their plans, despite an ever-aging population. The good news is that older people have an on-average higher level of disposable income than their kids, more leisure time and also use modern technologies such as smartphones and tablets, making them just as likely to engage with your brands via these channels. They are also embracing the world of experiences more in their spare time, making brand activations and retail a key channel to engage.
  5. Stop Stealing Our Data: Even though the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke just after the event, data protection was a major stream over the whole week, with more than 10 panels devoted to the theme and speakers such as Chelsea Manning and London mayor Sadiq Khan speaking passionately about the topic. Most foresaw heavier legislation on the horizon, and this was even before Facebook was caught with its pants down!

Five things that New Zealand marketers need to start doing more of:

  1. Focus on Mobile: Video will continue to be the key content across digital platforms and 50 percent of this content will be viewed on mobile devices from 2020 with the length of video views shrinking year on year to a likely six second view by 2020.
  2. Get ready for 2020…it’s only 20 Months away: With so many brands and businesses having talked about that date as a target to innovate, now is a critical time to look at how that strategy is working and check if it is on track!
  3. Embrace Retail Innovations: With Amazon stealing the conversation on all things retail, it was refreshing to hear that the ‘human factor’ was again still the key element of the retail experience. Two key ingredients outlined were ‘tech done right’ and ‘delightful design’ in the retail space. Another focus for tech is to help make that human experience less problematic – in training elements, to make working better; all to highlight the best of retail.
  4. Stop Believing All Your Research Data: With all the talk of AI in the air at SXSW there was a refreshing look provided by Emocom of the fact that quantitative data can be so badly skewed by humans because we all lie to make ourselves seem better or different to who we are. Their recommendation was to spend more time on observing people in real life environments and on screen activity.
  5. Invest in Brand Experiences: SXSW again showed the power of brand experience and how it can connect, resonate and create vivid memories for brands and consumers. The digital world can now link directly to live brand experiences, allowing them to be shared instantly; making experiential marketing an even more evocative channel. Definitive ROI can now be measured via digital and social channels via the dynamic content created and shared, making this a highly effective channel for marketers.

Five things that I got for free:

  1. Texan craft beer from all the brand experience activations – and lots of it!
  2. Cupcakes from the Trustwork Scavenger Hunt live activation.
  3. Goat and Puppy cuddles from the Viceland and Mashable House brand activations.
  4. Dinner – courtesy of the Visa and Uber Double Decker diner bus activation.
  5. Country and Western music from the huge variety of awesome venues in Austin.
  • Mark Pickering is director and creative strategist at Brand Spanking, and deputy chair of the Communication Council’s PR, Social and Experiential Committee.
  • Spencer Willis is creative technologist at Z Energy.
  • Read about their experiences at SXSW here.

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