How does SXSW fare as a marketing industry event?
Several times whilst at SXSW I overheard people shout "Have a good SouthBy!" as they parted. I found it annoying, but it served as a good filter of who not to talk to. Which wasn't necessarily a bad thing at a festival with almost 500,000 attendees, working in a multitude of industries, all keen to exchange ideas, sell their services or just make conversation.
The scale is bamboozling. An amorphous beast of a festival, if it can even be called that. It spans everything from branding to blockchain to boardgames to band art. Starting out as a music festival in 1987, it now broadly splits itself into Music, Film, Interactive, Comedy, Gaming and what it calls Convergence, which caters for any other overlaps, including food, sport, journalism and social impact.
From a brand perspective the more marketing-focused talks and panels were housed in the Interactive conference at the start of the week. It makes marketing actually sound a bit cool, I thought, as I trotted into various sessions about the Future Of Content, or the impact of (insert latest trending tech topic) on brands. But the proximity to various cutting-edge technology demonstrations meant the more sessions I attended, the more I began to feel a part of the one industry that wasn't bringing anything exciting to the party. The observation that millennials don't consume traditional media is not worthy of sharing to a room of delegates. Nor is a series of hot tips on how to make branded content, when they include things like 'make it emotional' and 'be spontaneous'.
Initially it made me re-evaluate why we attend industry events. If it's inspiration we're looking for, surely the echo chamber of marketing conferences is exactly what we should be avoiding. But then that's precisely why SXSW offers the perfect blend of, for want of a better word, 'convergent' disciplines. The real inspiration was soon to be found off the marketing-beaten track. Esports, biometric data, AR gaming weapons and Sadiq Khan. And that's before I even got to the VR Cinema, the 8K Theatre and the incredible experiential installations from the likes of HBO's Westworld and Sony's Odyssey Avo576. To reinforce John Hegarty's opinion, that to get inspired in this industry 'you should read stuff that other creative people don't read', SXSW offers a refreshing injection of otherness that can only serve to give marketing the relevance it needs. Now that I think of it, it was almost certainly the marketing guys who were "having a good SouthBy".
Christopher Godfree, Head of Entertainment Marketing