Each year, art meets technology at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. Celebrating the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries, this year's conference featured panels, seminars, parties and live music. Topics ranged from artificial intelligence and chat bots to female leadership and social purpose, revealing future trends for brands and agencies to keep in mind this upcoming year. Here are Y&R's key takeaways from SXSW 2017.
At SXSW this year the ‘hearables’ market was estimated to reach
more than $40 billion by 2020. And Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa
alone was estimated to hit $10B in the same time frame.
Advanced computing has found new ways to liberate itself from
the screen through systems that more accurately interpret voice
recognition and natural language processing. And while devices
like Alexa aren't exceedingly smart yet, what they are doing is
training generations of people to speak to their devices.
It also represents a significant leap forward for audio as a growing
user interface. The movement reinterprets ‘mobile’ not just as a
device you take with you — but rather, a more richly integrated
and dynamic network that surrounds you and enables fluid
communication with varied technology to augment daily life.
ONE SCREEN, MULTISCREEN, NO SCREEN
Following the 2016 election, news media faced yet another challenge: the
distortion of truth. Tech played a major role in the rise of ”fake news.” But
innovations in tech are also playing a key role in the efforts to combat it.
At SXSW this year, Dan Rather spoke to a packed room about how the
rise of fake news and distortion of truth is affecting the media. For
instance, live tweeting has been abandoned by many news organizations
due to the consequences of posting inaccuracies.
However, in today’s digital age, the pressure to report quickly is often
difficult to balance with investigating and corroborating claims. In
response, reporters are making efforts to label stories published without
full investigation — even if that means a longer headline.
ClaimBuster is one company offering tools that can sift through mass
amounts of text to fact-check claims. Also on the horizon are instant pop-
up fact-checking bots on live TV. But as Rather reminded the audience,
the bottom line remains: moral intent matters when it comes to the truth
and journalistic mission.
is a lie
is a lie.
Former CBS News Anchor
CONNECTIVITY AND ETHICS
Great power comes with differentiated responsibility. As technology
continues to expand the reach of brands, companies, and individuals,
the call for ethical awareness was marked at SXSW this year.
In his panel, Mike Godwin advocated for a proactive approach to
protecting privacy — characterizing laws as fundamentally reactive.
“People tend to think of one side of the equation: what threatens
technology or what threats does technology pose. The law thinks of
both, which is why it’s slow to adapt. But we also need to start
thinking about both sides of this relationship,” said FBI General
Counsel James Baker.
Although digital technologies impose a new ethical framework, they
also enable brands to build trust and transparency in new ways.
Brands like Snapchat and Lyft have successfully challenged more
established players by bringing ethics to the forefront. In our
connected world, it is important to remember that humanity and
technology are inextricably linked, perhaps now more than ever.
Panels throughout the week were focused not only on the evolutions
and opportunities across AI, but also on the risks. One issue of focus
was the impact of computer bias and biased data sets.
Shane Mac, CEO & Co-Founder of Assist stressed the importance of
diverse hiring practices in tech. Speakers throughout the week agreed
that creating more diverse and inclusive data sets behind AI and
algorithms in the future was a key issue for companies. Without this,
as technology evolves we risk compounding issues for underserved
groups as biases become cemented in and persist throughout our
The conversation echoes the diversity gap across many industries, but
carries even greater consequences as machine learning and AI
technology accelerates and influences a connected world. In another
session, Southeast Asia SapientNitro’s Melanie Cook summarized it
well saying, “The most important question isn’t how to make super
intelligence, or when will it come about. The most important question
is, when it does come about, how do we make it do the right thing?”
You need to have
when you create
computers so they
as a whole, not just
Shane Mac, CEO & Co-Founder Assist
THE IMPERFECTION OF TECH
Chat bots designed to simulate human conversation have crafted an
important space in a growing messenger and one-to-one space. Last
year, the big four messaging apps (WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat
and Viber) surpassed the big four social apps in user count.
Brands dipping into messaging face an audience of 2.6 billion users —
something marketers should be mindful of when targeting these
communities that have matured without them.
One such opportunity is to reduce friction in the consumer journey.
Bots can help consumers to interact with brands, find entertainment,
or get things done without the use of an app… but venture carefully.
According to Kik’s Laura Newton, 70% of chat bots are currently not
meeting user needs or expectations.
Newton warned that many marketers want to do too much, pursuing
robust features to attract users. The reality is bots on existing
messaging apps face fewer consumer adoption hurdles than new
apps. She advised, instead, that bots should focus less on robustness
and more on consistency in offering a reliable user experience.
A BOT’S WORLD
We believe that
Product Manager, Kik
Despite countless studies and widespread agreement about how
much companies stand to benefit from diversity and gender parity,
the issue has yet to see major strides in progress. Laura Jones, VP
Strategy Director at Y&R BAVLab, argued that ”to move the needle
on building female leadership, we need to amplify female voices.”
In a world where visibility equates to ‘promote-ability,’ conferences
and speaking opportunities are key to balanced leadership. But take,
for example, SXSWi 2016; although attendance split 50/50 between
men and women, women comprised just 38% of speakers. Citing
common challenges such as logistics, time, fear and the confidence
gap, Jones urged the audience to employ a push and pull strategy.
Step one is being more aware of the issue; a reminder to be generous
with opportunities — something both men and women, particularly in
senior ranks, can do to spread speaking opportunities and visibility to
rising talent. “The places we create in need to look more like the
world we create for,” said Jones.
GIVING FEMALE LEADERSHIP A VOICE
Innovation is not a dark art. Self-driving cars and machine learning
algorithms don’t build themselves, and websites don’t appear from the
ether — these are things that humans do, with help from data.
James Baker argued that people today need to immerse themselves in
data: “Legislators and executives alike need to become more proficient
with technology. You cannot just delegate. You need to hold people
accountable by asking questions and understanding why they act the
way they do.” For the FBI, failure to act on good data can risk lives.
However, according to the CEO of Baobab, Maureen Fan, the way
humans use technology is what guides innovation. “VR is at a good
place, we just need to convince directors like Chris Nolan and James
Cameron to use the tools that are out there… as long as there is
compelling storytelling at the center, VR can transcend all mediums.”
Context, discourse, and instinct make data actionable. Without these
pillars of human thinking, we would be lost in a sea of spreadsheets. It
is equally important to expand our potential through technology, and
let data occasionally shake our core assumptions.
Human resources are
the greatest limiting
factor, because the
government is only
as good as the people
who go into it.
We have the
technology, but we
need better people.
James Baker, General Counsel, FBI
“INSIGHT NEEDS DATA, DATA NEEDS INSIGHT
The ultimate objective for VR is to transport the user into another world
that can be experienced and interacted with through multiple sensory
devices. For years (and many SXSW conferences), it’s been touted as
the next tech breakthrough. Broadly, the hype has been disappointing
as advancements have been limited use-cases like gaming.
Chris Sacca, an early investor in Uber and Twitter argued that despite
everything, VR remains one-dimensional: “VR deprecates every other
sense we have - it is all encompassing and doesn't fit into our existing
senses and lifestyle.”
Integrating virtual technology with the physicality of the real world can
create something that does not separate from the real world, but
enhances our experiences within it.
One example: John Hanke, CEO & Founder of Niantic Labs and Sam
Gill from the Knight Foundation discussed AR’s power in reclaiming
civic commons from the standpoint that AR allows cities and countries
to engage audiences quickly, at scale, and at low cost.
VR/AR AND THE POWER OF REALITY
Authenticity is hard to convey, difficult to embrace, and impossible
to ignore. In today’s connected world, people want to see their
values and attitudes reflected in their brands and technology.
Some brands have balanced authenticity and empathy on social
media by encouraging people to use their pseudo-anonymity to be
the best version of themselves. Imgur founder Allan Scaaf argued
that encouraging vulnerability is the best way to create this
meaningful connection with consumers.
Community helps people feel they are a part of something bigger
than themselves, and they’re more likely to feel understood. When
brands think first as people, they can add value, create positive
emotional experiences, and ultimately, spur action.
Pamela Pavliscak, CEO of Change Sciences talked about emerging
emotion-sensing tech, changing the way your devices respond to
you. VR as a tool for empathy was, again, a major theme this year
with brands and news media tapping into augmented reality and
virtual reality to deliver more immersive storytelling.
Brands need to
to take on diverse
ideas with a kind of
protection that allows
to be vulnerable.
Alan Schaaf, Founder & CEO of Imgur
Brands require rich personas that can distinguish them from the herd.
This “tension” is born from having a clear purpose and being truthful
about that purpose. The right kind of tension can be difficult to
maintain, but it is often impossible to ignore.
“Gawker embodies the adage that a principle is not a principle unless
it costs you money,” said Gawker founder Nick Denton “People have
a responsibility to share their values and ideals with the world, so I
will never regret doing that with Gawker.” It may have cost him the
website, but Denton gained something far greater: his sense of
purpose has made him a powerful symbol of free speech.
According to Bishop Paul Tighe, Director of Digital Communications
for the Vatican, “Millennials are not disillusioned with tradition, they
are frustrated with slick and shallow expressions of it. The digital
world potentially brings people closer, but can also be polarizing. You
bridge that gap be being true to your opinions, values, and beliefs.”
Brands must stand for something. They may alienate or they may
unify, but people tend to have greater respect for actions that are
informed by principles.
Truth can be
polarizing, and true
statements can be
political, but truth
bias. It is what
moves us forward.”
Dan Rather, Former NBC News Anchor
PURPOSE & TENSION