min read

Reality Comes for SXSW

Headlines grounded the mood while inspiring conversations about culture-shifting tech looked to the future of storytelling.

The timing was uncanny. SXSW 2023 commenced as news of Silicon Valley Bank’ cascaded across the internet. While tech founders and innovators prepared to present their pet projects, speculation spread about the fallout from the collapse of the nation’s sixteenth biggest bank (one that many in attendance had dealings with).

But the immediate impact just reinforced the uncertainty of our times. On the heels of the pandemic, it wasn’t a total sea change, just more of the same. “Change is the only constant” is a cliche that many at SXSW recite like a mantra. And so topics were framed by this self-conscious lens and presented as a means to help businesses and consumers cope with ambiguity.

Here are four hot trends from the festival that offer both practical applications for now and exciting opportunities for the future. 

Camp Yellowjackets was a standout experience at SXSW 2023.

Sensational immersive experiences

To get a pulse on the different types of experiences happening this year at SXSW, we spoke to Robin Lickliter, chief experience officer, and Melissa Meloro, VP of content and strategy, at Sparks, a global experiential marketing agency. “I’ve seen so much my head is spinning,” said Meloro about her time at SXSW. 

For Lickliter and Molero, a successful experience engages the senses to fully immerse the consumer in the brand. “All too often people say immersive experience and the casual definition, which I don’t agree with, is that you’re surrounded by screens,” said Meloro. “I think anything that allows you to latch on to that message and forget everything else for a period of time, that to me is what true immersion in your brand is.”

Both were impressed by Camp Yellowjacket, Showtime’s activation promoting its hit show. “It was incredibly immersive and they did a great job with the storytelling aspect of it,” said Linkliter. “It was the perfect example of how an experiential environment can really put you in the moment. They used a lot of sense in the actual experience. I couldn’t believe it but when the fake snow touched your skin it was actually cold. I’ve never experienced that before.”

A few other experiences that the Sparks team highlighted were the Dolby House, and the XR Expo, where they took in Body of Mine, an immersion into gender dysmorphia, and Forager, which uses sight, sound and scent to explore the world of mushrooms.  

Panelists discussed how AI is being used in the newsrooms and what the future holds for the technology.

AI in the newsroom

Partnership on AI hosted a thoughtful panel about the use of new technologies in journalism. Aimee Rinehart of the Associated Press shared how technologies like Wispr and automation have helped resource-strapped local newsrooms adjust to their skeleton crews. Laura Ellis of the BBC mentioned how deepfake technology has improved the presentation of anonymous sources for visual mediums. And David Smydra, formerly of Twitter, spoke about how transparency and accountability from all organizations will be the only way to prevent AI from becoming an amped-up version of the content farms of the '90s. 

“AI tools are many orders of magnitude higher in terms of their power and their potential, so I think it’s even more critical that news organizations, Partnership on AI, and similar organizations are out front describing the risks and the costs and the benefits of increased transparency about how the content is produced," suggested Smydra. "Otherwise it can veer back into that content farm reality that it took so long to get out of.”

Ellis mentioned that brands must protect their content from being spoofed by signaling authenticity and credibility. “Media provenance is going to be something to take into account and work on,” she said. “The news ecosystem is changing beyond recognition right now, and we need to pick our way through this together.”

For Gen Z, social platforms are a primary tool for researching information and products.

Social search by Gen Z

Invisibly’s Laura Vestal leveled with the audience during a panel discussion on how social platforms are replacing search browsers for younger generations: I view Google as table stakes to building your brand,” she said. “Then there’s this new angle and huge audience, 40 percent of Gen Z, that are turning to social search. You cannot discount that or you’re turning your back on this massive audience that’s only growing.”

“The quality of our search results in the last few years has just degraded,” explained NoGood founder and CEO Mostafa ElBermawy. “You get a bunch of ads, you get a bunch of referral links, you get a bunch of SEO content. Stuff you know is not authentic and is not real.” 

On social sites like TikTok and YouTube, however, a user is able to turn up visual content, differing opinions, maybe even a lively debate about the topic that presents its nuance–that GenZ mot du jour. It’s that kind of authenticity that younger people crave. 

“I think they have a huge bullshit meter,” said SteelSeries's Jacob Bolvig about Gen Z. “They’ve grown up on the internet, and they’re very good at detecting what’s true, what’s not.”

Life in the metaverse may be legless, but it's becoming increasingly active.

Grounded web3 storytelling 

“Our first question always has to be why do you want to turn up there?” Amplify’s Alex Wilson said about brands in the metaverse. “Who do you want to talk to? How are you going to turn up there?” 

After Meta and Mark Zuckerberg’s avatar debuted their metaverse in 2021, many brands felt an urgency to enter the world of web3. A lot of attempts were made with middling and lackluster results. For Wilson and others on the Web3, Metaverse and Modern Storytelling panel, it’s not a realm for everyone. Brands must be thoughtful before entering this space.

“If you see someone turn up there and you ask why they’re there, then they’ve already kind of lost,” Wilson said. “For tech brands it makes sense. And I think when you look at a lot of lifestyle brands or brands that tell stories, it’s just another way for them to worldbuild or access the story through a different destination. But I think if you’re just creating it as tech for tech’s sake, that’s where you start to struggle.”

That said, it’s not something to be ignored either. “I would advise brands to protect your marks,” said Maghan McDowell of Vogue Business. “Try to file these classes. Legal up. Because If you go on Roblox, if you operate a brand, I assure you people are already making pieces with your brand name and making money off it without your control.” 

What makes these topics so relevant, is that they're all already in use. These aren't trends that brands are developing or planning on implementing, but are using now. In the next year, each will only mature and expand in the marketplace.

If your brand is not currently engaged in AI, web3, social search or immersive experiences, reach out to Magnet to learn how our team is implementing these successful marketing tactics.

Magnet is a global brand studio that uses data and storytelling to drive measurable business results. Our team is made up of strategists and creatives who use our THINK / MAKE / REACH process to develop marketing strategies, world-class creative production, and distribution strategies for our clients. Our work starts with data and insights to develop storytelling that’s distributed across all platforms. Our clients are currently appearing in the top media outlets, being shared by influential community members, and rising to the top of the search rankings. Recently we've produced award-winning campaigns for Google, Adobe, Chase, Microsoft, LinkedIn, CHIEF, Greenhouse, Cedar, YouTube, PBS, HarperCollins, Goldman Sachs, Airbnb, IBM, and more.

Britt Burritt
Britt Burritt
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