Why SXSW is Still Awesome

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SS+K wanted to capture the SXSW experience by tapping into the videos people were sharing from the festival through Vine. The agency used the SX6s app they built to view and select a set of Vines they thought were an accurate representation of SXSW experiences people were documenting in their vines: parties, food, street life, robots, and the Music, Film, and Interactive conference itself.

The result is a frenetic video that captures what it’s like to attend SXSW. The pace is fast and furious. The schedule is tight. And it’s a panoply of information and insight to fuel the mind for months following the event.

In terms of this year’s objects of desire, I liked the Leap Motion Controller which allows you to control your computer by gesticulating. I liked Grumpy Cat who appeared in the Mashable Tent for all to experience. I liked NASA’s presence which included several talks as well and a giant Space Camp astronaut dude who, in addition to roaming the streets of Austin, wandered through the exhibit hall and took pictures with people. And 3D printing was a live and well at many various events.

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There were no breakout hot products like there were in years past but that isn’t important. And to expect it to happen every year is just silly. In my opinion, people are better served by taking advantage of the personal connections which can be made during SXSW rather than expecting some cool, new app every year. Apps don’t last forever. True friendship does.

In all, this year’s SXSW was wonderful. Yes it was bigger then last year. Yes it’s not the quaint geek-fest it once was. But something about this year just clicked. Last seemed a bit crazy and unorganized. This time everything felt smooth and enjoyable. Maybe it’s just me but we’ve heard others say the same.

The marketing community continues to gravitate to SXSW but in more meaningful ways. The days of giant brand take overs like Pepsi Playground (which we liked and is now impossible to repeat because there’s a building where it took place) seem to be over but brands continue to have a strong presence.

Advertising agencies were well represented this year at SXSW with many hosting events or parties. JWT had its second annual Messin’ With Texas party. GSD&M had its Industry Party. Barbarian Group (which has had a presence at SXSW long before most agencies) held its annual party again this year at Mohawk. And that’s just a small sample of agency representation at this year’s SXSW.

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Certain “purists” will continue to bash the growth of SXSW but I think it’s just indicative of the greater marketing and advertising world understanding there are seismic shifts occurring and SXSW is a very important place to stay on top of those changes.

Even though I feel the dramatic growth SXSW has experienced is a good thing, I do miss the days when, as described by a friend, SXSW was like “having the entire internet in person.”

Ariel is right. Up until about four years ago, when you attended SXSW, it felt like a close-knit circle of friends…or at least a circle of close connections you had made through social media and its various precursors. Five years ago at an SXSW party in a venue that no longer exists, I can remember being starstruck by the presence of Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon founders all in the same room…along with, Shira Lazar iJustine, Lux Alptraum, Violet Blue, Evan Williams, Leah Culver, Pete Cashmore, Brian Solis and so many more that seemed to be everywhere during that year’s SXSW.

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But, as with anything, over time things change. And they have changed a lot. In 2008, there were 9,000 interactive attendees. In 2013, there were 30,621 interactive attendees. It’s awful hard for anything to feel intimate when there are 30,000 people involved and much of the internet Waldman refers to no longer attend.

That doesn’t make SXSW bad. It just makes it different. It’s easy to get nostalgic about the “good ‘ol days” of SXSW and the internet but nothing stays the same forever. Out of this growth, brands have finally discovered that technology plays a very important role in marketing. And technologists have reaped the benefits of, lets be honest, the deep pockets of big brands.

As is usually the case when big brands (and anyone remotely tied to marketing and advertising) first approach something new, size matters. Bigger is better. Think Pepsi Playground. Think CNN Grill. Think hot chicks atop a bus driving circles around the convention center.

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But now, while just as many brands are in attendance, the approach is different, The takeovers are smaller. They are more grounded (like Samsung’s pop up store). And they are much less ostentatious.

Many a naysayer told me “I’m not coming back next year.” Many people said this last year, yet they returned this year. It’s easy to trash SXSW for becoming large and commercial when it was once a quaint meetup for geeks. It’s far more intelligent to realize the event still has much to offer. I’ll be returning next year.

Why SXSW is Still Awesome

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