SXSW 2023 – Content is still King

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AUSTIN, TEXAS, Today: OMG NZ’s Gina McKinnon writes: There was a lot of anticipation to see what SXSW (South by Southwest) would deliver post the Covid years and I can assure you it did not disappoint.

More than 300,000 attendees from around the world descended on Austin to be inspired by the latest emerging trends and innovations across interactive media, technology, music and film.

My focus was on understanding what it means from a content and popular culture perspective so we can look to apply the trends to future campaigns and foster innovation with our clients.

The key themes across the week were all centred around AI –how to use it, when to use it, the impacts, the ethics. Big questions.

Always one of the most sought-after sessions was Amy Webb, ceo of the Future Today Institute and Professor at NYU Stern School of Business. She dove head-first into a data-driven analysis for the approaching tech trends to watch in 2023 and how to assess emerging innovation and the scenarios.

She talked a lot about “Re-perception” and the ability to become aware of white spaces, and things others can miss. She talked about looking at things with curiosity instead of saying no immediately. To me, her thinking was quite poetic as I felt she channelled the famous Walt Whitman quote, “Be curious, not judgemental”.

Amy followed this with the ongoing concern of data mindfulness with AI and the need for regulation, transparency etc to be addressed and this thread was continued throughout the week.

Enter ChatGPT – the hero of this year’s conference. The popular chatbot from OpenAI is estimated to have reached 100 million monthly active users in January, just two months after launch, making it the fastest growing consumer application in history (according to a UBS Study).

Greg Brockman, co-founder of OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT and Dall-E, said artificial intelligence is set to revolutionise everything, from writing to entertainment, to the way we do our jobs.

“The key themes across the week were all centred around AI –how to use it, when to use it, the impacts, the ethics. Big questions.”

While there are many creatives and strategists worried about the impact of AI on content, there was a clear message shared – whilst it can generate text, it is not intended to replace human content creators and writers.

It will assist with researching information and generating ideas, however it will not replace the creativity, nuance and critical thinking humans bring to their work.

Brockman said it will only be used for those jobs that “didn’t want human judgement in the first place”. I think we can all breathe easy knowing that every piece of content – no matter how simple – requires some form of human judgement!

Another clear theme from the week was around the post-Covid consumer and the different audiences’ brands are now interacting with.

There was one key message – brands need to be ready to adapt and do things differently.

A lot of the talks pointed to the success of brands that are focused on the here and now, rather than the legacy insights in their category. John Tsangaris from Threat, Optiv, said, “If you are thinking about trying an AR campaign, start small, think big and learn fast – do your research, know your audience, talk to them and get questions”

Another hot topic was around ephemeral trend culture and how it is transforming business.

Lorry Destainville, Global Commerce Partnerships from TikTok, talked us through how the only constant is change. Changes in business dynamics, emerging technology, the increased consumer expectations and the shift of power and control to the consumer.

TikTok has vastly increased the speed at which trends take off, along with how fast and wide they are distributed. A great example is the re-emergence of Crocs – the 90s are back!

“TikTok has vastly increased the speed at which trends take off, along with how fast and wide they are distributed. A great example is the re-emergence of Crocs.”

Just look around you, every child I see is in a pair of Crocs. There is no doubt around the power of using social media to create, foster and distribute trends, fast.

Destainville’s advice to brands was to lower the barrier, take risks and get involved in trend culture, whilst also cautioning to remain authentic and only jump on those trends that are aligned to your brand/story/belief. Doing this well will help us rebalance and bring the power back to the brands in today’s current environment.

Porsche illustrated very clearly the power of integration, cementing their place in popular culture by spotlighting their one-of-a-kind collaborations.

It was led by the public debut of Mirage – from the upcoming Paramount Pictures film Transformers: Rise of the Beasts.

A magical place
In line with the Porsche spirit of being “Driven by Dreams”, Porsche created “Porsche X – Collaborations Unseen”, an exhibit designed to connect dreamers across disciplines. It was a magical place for thinkers, creators and storytellers.

Speaking of dreamers it would be remiss of me not to refer to Josh D’Amaro, The chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, talking about “the happiest place on earth” – Disneyland. If you want to understand the power of pure storytelling, then take notes!

D’Amaro led us on a journey celebrating the power of shared experiences and connections. Apparently when emotions are elevated, we remember more, so Disney are all about creating immersive storytelling experiences using all the senses to bring them to life.

Imagine being part of team of “Imagineers” who are focused solely on bringing to life immersive storytelling experiences? It sounds like a dream job.

We were introduced to AI Tinkerbells, robots, and the Hulk IRL – and there was not one mention of revenue, it was an hour focussed purely on imagination – how do we get that job?!

The week provided lots of lessons, lots of opportunity, lots of tacos and most importantly it illustrated the power of content, partnerships and storytelling and shed a bit of light on how we can leverage AI to invent the future that we want, together.

Bring it on, let the good times roll, let’s use this to spark a conversation about tomorrow.

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