Whatever your opinion of SXSW might be, and there are plenty of them, there is no arguing that this year’s festival has finally achieved its long, sought-after goal. Film and Interactive are no longer mere add-ons to the historic Music festival, but have joined the bands and overflowing bars to become equal partners in the curious swarm that descends upon the city of Austin every March.
When Ryan Gosling and Will Ferrell are breathing in the same barbecue-perfumed Texas air as YouTubers and Meerkats, this is no longer just a music festival, it’s a cultural event that reaches all corners of media. So, of course, ZEFR was there and came back alive to share some observations big and small.
Milk and Cookies Are the New Beer and BBQ
At ZEFR’s Milk and Cookies panel and party with Bonin Bough of Mondelez, YouTube superstar Stuart Edge, and Ondi Timoner (director of SXSW opening night film Brand: A Second Coming), authenticity was a key theme. Stuart Edge suggested that in order for brands and content creators to achieve strong results, brands need to think in the voice of the content creators, noting, “Brands come to us with goals, and we will provide the ideas.”
And if there is any question as to how much integration is happening at SXSW, do not mistake Timoner’s forthcoming documentary for a dry dissertation on the future of brands. It is, in fact, about Russell Brand (arguably a “brand” of his own making) who skipped out on his own premiere, apparently citing the film as too difficult for him to watch. Films, brands, Brand, and drama, all in one place: Austin.
Virtual Reality is More Than Cardboard
Google drew crowds, of course, first baiting them into their SXSW realm with cardboard virtual reality goggles. We couldn’t resist trying them out and they were as fun as, well, enhanced cardboard. Whether or not they look cool too, that’s up to the eye of the beholder.
But the real reason the tech giant was happy to hand out magical cardboard masks was to talk about Google Fiber. In the next year, prepare to hear a lot more about how Google is planning to revolutionize your television set by transforming it into what they claim will be “TV like no other.”
The End of Big vs. Small
At a Brand Innovators panel on “Futurecasting,” we heard inspirational words on how to help organizations evolve. “It’s about working to transform everyone inside an organization,” argued Mondelez’s Bonin Bough, speaking about sending senior Mondelez brand leaders to go work at startups. Brands at SXSW were springing up everywhere, utilizing the convention as a way to connect and activate with startups. McDonald’s set up a startup pitch session, open to the public, that was so jam-packed we never even got past the doorjamb. (Isn’t this only supposed to happen with bands, not brands? Welcome to the new SXSW.) Even PayPal had Shark Tank star Daymond John judge a startup duel.
Authenticity Isn’t Just a Buzzword, It’s a Building
There’s more to SXSW than just showing up. Some brands are learning it the hard way. The pressure to be there is one thing, but to be there without a viable strategy is no longer an option. A&E Networks, home to Bates Motel, took authenticity to the next level. Arriving in Austin, primed to promote the recent start of season three, the network quite literally brought the show to the festival, hotel and all, inviting some members of the press for a memorable sleepover.
Every SXSW newcomer is almost as excited about the delicious BBQ as they are about hearing music, seeing film, and experiencing interactive.
But, this year, the Meerkat took centerstage, creating the kind of buzz that even catches the attention of sleepy-eyed newsman Charlie Rose.
The big question is whether the live streaming video app will be able to capitalize on all the attention before Twitter-backed competitor Periscope launches.
Yes, there are long lines, massive crowds, the impossibility of seeing and experiencing everything SXSW Interactive has to offer, but that’s the upside. What ZEFR witnessed at this year’s convention was the culmination of what began as a small, hopeful offshoot of a world-renowned music festival emerge as a major exhibitor of emerging new media. Some might argue that SXSW is growing too fast and has outsized its original ambition (to discover and sign new bands). What we saw was the arrival of a convention that now has the bandwidth to showcase the media mindset that exists in 2015: it’s big, it’s fast, and it’s constantly shifting. SXSW was more than up to the task. It is not just a cultural event, it is culture itself.
Get future posts delivered to your inbox