Y&R once again sent some of its brightest minds to the interactive portion of the annual event and here’s what they had to say about the trends at the intersection of technology and advertising, and what they mean for brands today.
A tortilla you could have your face printed on?
A 10-foot tall robot that gives out free hugs? A
VR experience that allows artists to work inside
a 3D space and draw life size images? And
cocktails created based on your taste prefer-
ences, hobbies and lifestyle?
Ah, SXSWi – the tech industry spinoff of the
annual ﬁlm and music festival in Austin featured
four days of technology, innovation, creativity,
and, of course, barbecue and tacos.
Y&R once again sent some of its brightest
minds to the interactive portion of the annual
event and here’s what they had to say about
the trends at the intersection of technology
and advertising, and what they mean for brands
In years past, SXSWi has been the place where people launched “the next big thing,” surrounded by lots
of fanfare. But this year, there was no Meerkat or Highlight to generate buzz. As a result, some industry
observers have declared SXSW 2016 a bust.
SXSW this year felt more grown up. More corporate and more branded, to be sure. But also more
introspective and philosophical. Sure, it is still a tech conference, just like CES is still a gadget
conference. But the tech conversations felt more anchored to a sense of purpose.
So maybe, SXSW has become more about the long view? After all, last year’s darlings Meerkat and
Highlight are already irrelevant. So maybe, like the millennials — who make up growing percentage of the
attendees — SXSW is simply growing up. But it is too early to tell. We’ll ﬁnd out next year if introspection
is a new trend, or simply the latest ﬂash in the pan.
SXSW Grows Up?
Alan Vassberg, Vice President,
Communications Planning, Y&R Austin
The Medium Becomes the Greater Part of the Message
Sam Stein, Sr. Data Strategist, Y&R NY
Deep consumer engagement can no longer be achieved strictly through great
storytelling. Sophisticated storytelling now requires genuine content, relevant
platforms, and eye catching technology.
Virtual Reality was all the craze at SXSW, with every tech (and non-tech) brand
showing their newest capabilities, but brands still need to further develop their
presence on already established platforms to create a full connected brand expe-
rience. With major digital publishers admitting that most of their content is not
consumed on their website, brands should take a cue and prepare for the
majority of their content to be consumed on non-brand platforms. This challenge
requires creating content true to individual platform experiences will being true
to the bands voice and message across multiple platforms.
From start-ups that solve complicated food decisions for the poor to aggregated concierge services for Airbnb,
the idea of “mobility on demand” was a strong presence at this year’s conference.
To me, the pick of the bunch was a start-up named Integrated Roadways.
Consider ﬁrst that 40 percent of U.S. roadways are in need of immediate repair, at an estimated cost of $2 trillion
and growing…and you quickly understand it’s not a conversation government wants to have. Combine this with the
upcoming launch of the 5G networks and Telco’s resistance to invest in cell tower infrastructure, and you now
have the kernel of an inspired new business.
Integrated Roadways builds precast Lego-style roadway blocks that contain embedded Telco technology and sen-
sors that facilitates a public + private partnership that drastically reduces cost to government, and eliminates the
need for Telco tower investment (plus it makes for a smooth ride; currently used in German autobahns).
The product improves cell services in remote communities, eliminates the need for tower construction and main-
tenance, aids live trafﬁc analysis and is increasingly appealing to brands. McDonald’s, for example, is considering
push notiﬁcations to drivers via the roadway as they approach a drive-thru and encouraging pre-orders via mobile.
As governments increasingly look to outsource and avoid asset ownership, I sense Integrated Roadways may be
on the cusp of something big.
Mobility on Demand
Julian Bell, Managing Partner,
Nolan Bushnell, co-founder of Atari, spoke of a future where technology will offer us a lot of fun and
added value, albeit as invisible as possible. “Reality has the biggest resolution,” he said.
And indeed if I saw any trend, it’s how technology is blending with reality faster and faster. With AI, sen-
sors, robots, big data, etc. not being an end in itself, but merely being instruments to give us an as
smooth and as human as possible ride. Human experience instead of user-experience.
Don’t misunderstand me: there’s still a lot of mucking around. Earphones with pads that stimulate your
vestibular system while gaming in VR so that your body thinks it’s really real (really!), haptonomy built into
mobile phones so you can add a tactile “score” to your video on top of graphic and sound effects…But in
the long run it’s clear: devices, screens and buttons are just an in-between phase. We’ll have a thousand
invisible computers in our homes and lives, all performing simple tasks, all costing less than a dollar and
all working perfectly together, running on AI fuel. And all enriching our lives. I tend to believe Nolan. After
all, he brought us Pong. It’s certainly something to keep in mind, especially while working for brands.
Technology is great, but it should never get in the way of a great idea or make things more complex.
That said: while we’re waiting for invisible technology, those VR goggles are ridiculously visible.
Tech Should Never Get in the Way of a Great Idea
Samuel De Volder, Executive Creative Director, These Days Antwerp
When your tech festival kicks off with President Barack Obama imploring tech
professionals and tech-minded citizens to apply their talents toward solving some of
the country’s biggest societal challenges, you know this is going to be a different
SXSW. Perhaps it’s only ﬁtting that on the eve of the festival’s 30th anniversary,
SXSWi is maturing. Sure, it’s more of a brand experience than the tech conference it
used to be, but with that shift comes a renewed focus on putting people ﬁrst.
Government is slow, big, bloated and risk-averse, while the tech industry is sleek and
willing to take chances. “Culturally unalike,” President Obama remarked. “How do we
get them to work together? It’s not enough just to focus on what’s the cool next
thing. Part of what we have to do is to ﬁgure out how do we use and harness the
cool next thing to make sure that everybody in this country has opportunity.”
The tech and innovative thinking this year had less to do with hardware and software
(do we really need another photo-sharing app?), but more to do with physical prod-
ucts bettering consumer’s lives. There was a stronger push for products that would,
for example, make us healthier like advancements in clothing, nutritional drinks, and
coffee. It’s this kind of thinking that will really resonate with people.
People Come First
Sulaiman Beg, Director of Global Digital
and Social Communications, Y&R
For me, the most memorable, insightful and downright necessary session I attended was the closing
keynote “Why Happiness is Hard and How to Make It Easier” by Headspace Co-Founder Andy
Puddicombe, a former monk-turned-entrepreneur.
In today’s world, especially in business, stress and non-stop movement are constants in the lives of many
of us. We tend to overwork ourselves and forget to step back and relax, to allow for a more joyful life as
well as the opportunity to clear our minds and make better business decisions.
“Meditation is not about clearing the mind,” Puddicombe says, “Rather, it’s about stepping back and
seeing your thoughts more clearly.”
At one point in his keynote, Puddicombe had more than 1,500 people meditating at the same time for ﬁve
minutes. Many for the ﬁrst time in their lives. For those ﬁve minutes, he brought every single person in
the room into a state of relaxation and mindfulness. That moment of pause is something we all forget to
do in our daily lives, and if we all just took a moment to just stop, let go, and relax, we’d have a world full
of smarter, happier, more efﬁcient, clear-minded, more productive and straight up friendly business
Enjoy the Silence
Skye Duster, Account Supervisor, Y&R Austin
One of the greatest takeaways is the self-driving car movement and
how close we are to it becoming a reality. Self-driving cars will open
up so many opportunities and as a marketer, the idea of a captive
audience inside a car that can be fed very powerful advertising in a
way that was never before possible. I envision cars with an app store
and apps that make mobile phones pale in comparison.
Imagine if your car could get your tires rotated while you are at work,
but before it drove off, it would price compare the local shops and
estimate the required gas to complete the journey in order to ﬁnd
the best offering. Delivery of anything will completely change when
your car can do the pickup itself. The experience of driving could be
paired with so many other experiences like movies, gaming, commu-
nication, and business.
The Car of the Future
Marc Fischman, CEO and Co-Founder,
Algorithms are important factors in the decision making process.
We trust them because they make a promise to make our lives
easier by decreasing the amount of decisions we have to make,
thereby decreasing our “cognitive load.” There are two types of
algorithms of which to be aware: closed (help you decide) and
open (help you discover).
As a brand, you do not want to be left out of a closed algorithm.
In other words, you don’t want an algorithm to make the decision
that you are not needed in a person’s life – think Google deciding
that you are not relevant to a user’s search query. However, you
do want to be a brand that is included in an open algorithm, i.e.
people are able to discover you – think Spotify’s discovery
playlists where you can listen to new artists.
The Future is Algorithms
Danica Ferrell, Media Manager, Y&R Austin
Diversity and inclusion was a hot topic at SXSW this year. The keynote panel “Elephant
in the Valley” led by two of the survey’s authors, provided a deep-dive into the respons-
es of more than 200 women executives in Silicon Valley that explores how they are
subject to signiﬁcant amounts of direct and indirect bias in the workplace.
• 84% of women have been told they are too aggressive (with half hearing that on
• 88% have experienced clients/colleagues address questions to male peers that
should be addressed to them
• 60% of women in Tech reported unwanted sexual advances
This session was only one of hundreds of gender and racial bias conversations being
had at SXSW. It was the key topic for The First Lady, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and big brands
like Google, Facebook, AOL and Johnson & Johnson.
For me, SXSW underscored that despite all the progress there’s a real need to build ap-
propriate support programs for women, minority groups and people of color, to bridge
the gap across our industries and enable a more creative and prosperous future for us
Bridging the Gap
Olivia Chamberlain, Corporate Communications Manager, Y&R
The Art of Storytelling
Cameron Hogan, Sr. Program Manager, Hyperactivate
Video storytelling was ever present at SXSWi with Snapchat the big winner.
The introduction of Stories to Snapchat in December 2014 has allowed users and brands to create a
narrative that lasts a full 24 hours. This might not seem long but if you think about the average window
of opportunity to grab a consumer's attention (maybe just a few seconds?), really this is an eternity and
one better - the consumer can view the content on their own time in the course of a day whereas a
tweet is "lost to the scroll" after only a few hours. Also, you can't say in a photo what you can in a 6 or 10
second clip or in a 20-minute live stream. This is the very reason brands and inﬂuencers have ﬂocked to
leverage these emerging video platforms - they allow for better storytelling and people are engrossed.
And here’s why storytelling is so important - our subconscious brain can’t differentiate between reality
and imagination, or in the case of social media, simply hearing a story and actually living it. It's why we
cry during a sad, heartbreaking moment while watching a movie or reading a book - our conscious
knows it’s only a movie/book but the subconscious does not.
I love this quote from Phillip Pullman - “after nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the
thing we need most in the world.” How many times have you been on a ﬁrst date, an interview, or talking
to a random stranger and the ﬁrst question to arise is "so what's your story, tell me about yourself..." We
as humans love a good narrative, and these video-focused platforms cater to that.
While we all know the way we engage with consumers is evolving, this year there
was a notable focus on the experience brands cultivate with consumers. We have
to forget what we know about reaching consumers and think about where they are
and how they interact with brands in order to deliver better experiences. As Iris
Bohnet, Professor of Public Policy at Harvard, outlined in her session, we need to
remember to share information simply, saliently and comparatively. In her perfect
example, we have moved from the complex food pyramid to the intuitive and
simple plate proportion “pyramid.”
Meanwhile, digital analyst, speaker and author Brian Solis presented the examples
of the Heinz ketchup bottle redesign, as well as the case of the parking sign
redesign. All of these examples clearly demonstrate how we need to evolve our
thinking from just saying the right thing or having great design to providing a brand
experience that resonates and/or improves the lives of consumers.
Evolving the Brand Experience
Jennifer Wilson, Group Account Director, Y&R Austin
I noticed an interesting trend as I researched this year’s panels: SXgood. SXSW Interactive 2016 felt less
about technology and more about what we plan to do with it. I felt the focus this year was on social good,
purpose and intentionality.
These themes were clearly evident during President Barack Obama’s keynote, where he told us that it’s not
enough to focus on the next cool thing but that we need to ﬁgure out what to do with it to help create op-
portunity for people. In the closing keynote, former monk Andy Puddicombe, enlightened all in attendance
about the importance of mindfulness. He told us that the individual deﬁnes mediation in the way we choose
to use it.
That idea, the way we choose to use our talents, our ideas, and our technology to do more felt refreshing
and powerful at a technology conference. It’s interesting that many panels shared an element of social good
infused within their messages, considering that the selected panels are crowdsourced by festival attendees.
Perhaps these are the themes on people’s minds—as we continue to make strides in technology what will
we do with it, how will we use it to do good?
The Importance of Mindfulness
Divya Darsi, Strategist, Y&R Austin