We went on the March Mashup boat cruise, a free-food-and-drink affair Wednesday night. Trying my darndest, I could not find a single reason for it to exist, until one of the founders told me, “we just thought it would be awesome to have a party on a boat, during SXSW.” Well okay.
The sponsors of the event, Red Stripe beer, Hey Cupcake!, and the Daily Juice, were very well-promoted and their products were the only things served, so they certainly benefitted from the event. Daily Juice made crazy – and delicious – cocktails in coconuts, something that was so memorable it makes me want to stop into the Daily Juice to try something in the store. Last night we also went and saw a couple bands at the Smokin’ “place”. I say that because I don’t know what the actual name of it is, but “Smokin’ ______” is written on the side of the building, colored smokebillows out from the roof, you can smoke inside since it’s not technically an indoor venue (which means port-o-potties… ugh), and it’s all sponsored by Natural American Spirit.
You can evenstop by the cigarette “bar” for a fix. If an advertiser can carry out a theme to that extent, it’s pretty impressive. And the smoke is visible for blocks!
The interactive portion of SXSW devotes days’ worth of panels to emerging technologies, almost all of which focus on the web. The most compelling applications are the ones which bring web-enabled content and flexibility away from the desktop and into the real world. There has been a lot of talk about things like Twitter
, though currently in its infancy and only used by alpha geeks, is definitely a sign of things to come. Twitter’s concept is that meta-data stored on the web can in fact be useful in people’s day to day lives. And customers are only going to demand more and more complex data as people begin to realize the actual value of ubiquitous information.
One of the choke points, however, and something that SXSWi largely glosses over, is the hardware that enables this technology. Text messaging is the first step, naturally, and most of the interesting mobile technologies are built on it. But cellphone manufacturers have been fiercely competing to add more “computer-like” features to each new generation of phone. Blackberry cornered the business market with an array of web and enterprise features. The iPhone then exploded the reach of the smartphone by making it cool and convincing a generation of the tech unsavvy that they need to check their email in the grocery store. Now that nearly every handset user has these capabilities services that make use of rich content have a platform.
But cellphones fall short in a lot of ways: they are underperforming, and suffer from usability issues, particularly related to display and input. Any writer on earth (including those weirdo Japanese text message novelists
will tell you that tapping out posts on an iPhone is less than ideal. A very interesting little gadget emerged in the last year to bridge the gap between the smartphone and the laptop. Asus’s eee PC
is an adorable little ultraportable that hits the sweet spot of features, flexibility, price and style. It is a cheap, powerful machine optimized for new web technologies. For example, it sacrifices a hard drive for a small flash storage instead relying on things like Google Docs. It also plays on another trend: hackability. It has an expansion bay in the back in which hardware hackers are stuffing GPS, wireless modems and just about every other technology one can imagine. Needless to say, it’s been great for blogging this festival; it’s portable enough to lug around all day and not make you miserable.
With hardware costs edging lower and lower and more demand for mobile web applications, I think we are going to see a lot more devices like this coming down the pipe. HP
has already released a competitor being sold through Wal-mart. Personally, I would be shocked if a certain fruit company
based in Cupertino, California didn’t release a device very similar to this in the next year or two based on iPhone and MacBook Air technologies.
Ahhhh..a room full of agency people for this panel, it was great—I felt right at home. They were speaking my language discussing the challenges and obstacles a traditional agency might have in this continually evolving digital world. This is a topic I have thought a lot about in the last two years. As a “traditionally” trained media planner how will I ever be able to be a digital expert? There is new information bombarding me everyday, new websites, new ad networks, new behavioral targeting, new social media tools with a cool new application, new mobile advertising functions. How do I keep on top of it and bring it to my clients who need and want to be in this space to drive their business?So I finally felt at peace with myself when I connected with a statement from the panel, “the transition comes from how you think and align around the idea as an agency team.” It’s true, it all starts with the idea and believing in the best way to communicate with your audience. We will thrive in this digital world from staying media agnostic. Forget about the medium and develop ideas for ways to have great communication with your audience.
If we continue to focus on consumer insights, reaching them in this new age will come naturally. We all have to be in tune with what consumers want in a brand experience. Today its about interaction, communication is a two-way street, its less about what you say and more about what you do to create a conversation with your audience. A few brands come to mind that are doing this, Dove Body Wash, which is asking consumers to share their shower experiences and how Dove Cream Oil Body Wash makes them feel by creating :30s spots. This encourages consumers to think about their shower experience with the brand and what this moment means to them and share it with the world.
Another brand is Nike, launching Nike+. It not only got consumers back into running, connecting with each other through the Nike brand, it’s actually making an experience that some perceive as awful–exercise–fun! Of course both of these brands had digital aspects in their plan such as online banners/video, blogs, etc. While digital will be a part of our communications plans, we still must build a meaningful relationship with the customer.
Say what you will about musician/DJ/composer Moby. He got a lot of flak for licensing just about every track off of his wildly popular Play album. His vegan lifestyle and his opinionated essays have had him labeled as a blowhard and a preachy leftist.
Moby gave an intimate interview at a joint Interactive/Film panel and he came across as extremely affable, humble individual (a luxury, maybe, having made tons of money). What I was most excited to hear about was his new website/venture, Mobygratis.com. Basically it’s a resource for independent and student filmmakers where they can download original Moby music for free to use in their films. And if any of the films down the road make any kind of profit, a portion of the proceeds go to Moby’s favorite non-profit (and a local Door Number 3 client): The Humane Society.
What does it take to be sticky? Today I had to ask myself what really stuck out in terms of non-traditional advertising in the SXSW convention hall, and I aimed my focus on one particular area.Tucked into a corner at the hall are groups of tables, covered, no, SMOTHERED by promotional materials for a variety of brands and products for the taking–stuff like postcards, newspapers, magazines, etc, etc, etc. One glance and you want to ask who dumped the paper trash in the middle of the place. While snapping photos, I heard numerous people gasp as they walked by, mumbling to themselves in amazement at the piles of paperstuff. It’s true, there are at least 20 layers of different promotional materials and everything will seem the same if you don’t sift through them. There were a few noble attempts to raise the bar on the typical promotional sign or postcard. But for 90% of those who left something on the table, your materials will be recycled at the end of the week, missing whoever your target market is.What I liked to see were those things that defied two dimension, like this little box Adobe made. The text said, “Find good fortune at SXSW,” hence the fortune cookies inside. Kind of weird, but I thought the packaging was eye catching. It’s more memorable and stickier than almost any business card or postcard. Some advertisers opt for useful items, like highlighters or lanyards. Thanks for giving me something I can use, but from a creative standpoint, you get no congratulations from me. A few colorful glasses peaked through the mass, as well as some stickers, but if the stickers only display your logo and some wacky headline, then I’m passing it by.Am I too picky or closeminded? Maybe. But the interactive, 3D materials really caught my attention, and that is definitely one of the better strategies to use when trying to filter through the other 90% of promotional waste.
Waiting in line for over an hour to see Forgetting Sarah Marshall at the Paramount, girls in hula skirts braved the chilly weather to go around and lei all those waiting in line. When the movie was over, I was completely surprised to see not one lei lay on the ground … and I even saw leis out much later last night. Maybe I’m an oddity and I just don’t like wearing the swag, but it appears everyone else loves leis.
We headed to PhizzPop where there was some serious branding going on! There were interactive kiosks where you could vote on the best design in an interactive design competition they were hosting, and the bar’s flat screens were all hosting demonstrations of the different projects. People were mesmerized when demos came on—they just sat wherever they were and watched. PhizzPop also had an open bar, a signature drink (red bull & pop rocks), light-up ice cubes, and branded cocktail napkins—if unoriginal, at least it’s smart marketing, since many people are at a party just for the free booze. And the light-up ice cubes made it into our drinks at the next party, where PhizzPop got some publicity from people asking us where we got the ice cubes.
Next, we went to the Facebook party, which billed itself as “Facebook Friends.get party @ SXSW 2008.” Participants could only sign up via Facebook, and I met at least one guy who signed up for a Facebookaccount just to snag an invite to the party. An email sent to registrants said: “Priority admittance will be given to people on our attendee list. Folks with a SXSW conference badge will be admitted as well, as space allows.”That is absolutely genius. Because Facebook users are likely to be the younger crowd that can’t afford the badges, they are placed above the arguably more professional badgeholders. This makes the Facebook-only crowd want to come to the party—and makes them feel like they are truly valued as members of Facebook.
The party also had a very subliminal-message type screen that kept repeating mantras like “Facebook is a part of our daily lives,” and “Facebook is our social utility.” Facebook is a part of my daily life and I do use it as a social utility … so there may be a correlation between the sentiments, but not causation.I found one interesting item when I randomly walked into the NXNW party – this little monster finger-puppet on the ground. I started to play with it, and it attracted tons of attention. Everyone wanted to know where I got it so they could get one too … so to whoever out there brought the monster finger-puppets: put your brand name on them! Or is the monster the brand?
Throughout SXSW Interactive fest, every panel is hosted on Meebo or accepting questions with Twitter. At an interactive festival where 50% of the discussion is social media, the presence of these social tools is a given. It’s been interesting to read the Meebo chat rooms from panel to panel and also great looking back at discussions on panels I couldn’t catch. The increased use of these tools during real life events does have it highs and lows.On the plus side it makes it a lot easier to communicate with anyone and everyone in an instant. Whether it’s sharing ideas, giving feedback, asking questions, or making snide comments about a panel (saw that a lot)…its all instant gratification for what one is looking for at that moment. People are able to establish connections with peers that share their same interests and professions, which also allows networking through your fingertips during industry events. The downside I see is using these tools during public forums can be distracting and rude to the speakers—we aren’t giving the respect to these speakers that they deserve for sharing their time and knowledge. With all the social tools abounding, of course they will be used more and more in this way. However, I believe people will still crave human, in-person connections and discussions, in which the transparency that was established in the digital world will and can still be there.