SxSWi: shiny objects, douchebaggery, utility and brilliant people
As a SxSWi virgin going into this year’s conference, many had forewarned me about its immense size, its logistical challenges and its sometimes-inconsistent content quality. It’s a monster thing to get your head around (especially for someone like me who the Jigsaw OrangeAid interns think of as a slow-loading web page to begin with). So, six days after the fact of SxSWi, I am now getting my head around what just happened. Well, sort of…
With literally hundreds of sessions a day from which to choose, parties galore (or so I hear), and tons of great people, SxSWi is not something that anyone can really ever get their heads completely around. If they say they have, they are lying, or making it up. Now in its 15th year, the conference reportedly saw an attendance spike of about 40% again this year for oh, some 19,000-ish people. I’ve no doubt whatsoever that if we convinced each of those 19,000 people to write 800 words summing up the experience, we would have 19,000 wildly divergent stories. John McGrath of Austin agency GSD&M calls SxSW a “huge cultural conversation”, which sums up well why more big brands like Chevy, Samsung, Microsoft and many others are jumping at the chance to be a part of it, and why we think as an agency, Jigsaw needs to be a part of it. It really is digital culture at its climax.
Regarding the sessions, I covered a few of them on this blog during SxSWi, including Agencies need to think and act more like software companies, Joseph Jaffe: Flip the marketing funnel, and Healthcare and social media: Boundaries without barriers. The best sessions I attended also included The death of the brand website, Real-time marketing in a connected world, Behind the curtain: Secrets of mobile application wizardry, and Augmented reality for marketers: The future of consumer interactions. Thoughts on those topics to come later.
For now, though, as I try to sum up the experience in just 800 words, many come to mind: laid back, hyperactive, thought-provoking, stimulating, exhilarating, overwhelming, funny, weird, disappointing, frustrating, maddening, crazy. All at the same time. You know, like a microcosm of life. It is definitely true what one often hears South By veterans saying: it’s not the sessions, it’s the people that make the experience – a great mix of old friends with brilliant minds and terrific senses of humor and new friends with brilliant minds and terrific senses of humor. At the end of the day, it’s pretty hard to beat that.
SXSW as you may know is taking some heat for “selling out”, to the point that entire sessions were dedicated to Saving SXSW from Marketer Douchebaggery . Yet, as a strategist (and a newbie) the experiential marketing was just part of the fun. Is it really douchebaggery if it’s useful? No. And I was happy to see most marketers being useful instead of just blatantly pimping their wares. Chevy giving free rides around town. Intuit, Uber and others giving free pedicab rides between venues in exchange for follows and tweets. The Chevy Volt Recharge Lounge offering plentiful power for geeks with gadgets. Just a few examples. None of it douchebaggery, and though there certainly there was some present, it seemed the exception rather than the rule.
Of course, there were lots of shiny tech objects. GroupMe. Beluga. Hashable. Etcetera. May the spoils go to the most useful, I say. Utility still rules. Fun is good too…and IMHO the “most fun” award at the conference itself went to the Alcatel Lucent Developer Lounge, which created a life-size Angry Birds game – aka geek heaven – in which if you donned a bird (or pig) suit and knocked a structure down, you walked away with a stuffed Angry Bird. (Alas, I came home empty handed, much to my son’s chagrin.)
People have asked me what we will do differently next year: 1. Book early…get rooms downtown!!! 2. More advance research on sessions and speakers. Picking them via the SxSW Go app on the plane on the way to Austin was efficient, but more dependent on the quality of the copy than the quality of the speakers. That said, with a few exceptions most of the sessions I attended were great. 3. Take a longer lens. I realized about halfway to the Milwaukee airport that I had only a wide-angle 24MM camera lens in my bag. While I usually like to get in people’s faces, it’s just not realistic much of the time with 18,999 other people around you. And to be honest, as a first-timer I perhaps wasn’t 100% ready to get fully in the face of South By. Next year can’t come soon enough.
And in the ever-growing category of people-way-smarter-and-way-faster-than-me, this is an important post-SxSWi blog post from Geoff Livingston – Mobile Now Necessary for Brand Relevancy. Please read it.