By – Chaim Haas and Nadina Guglielmetti
There was a lot of talk leading up to South by Southwest (SXSW) last month that the conference had “jumped the shark.” After attending the conference, we’re glad to report that there’s still a lot of life left in this event. Here are seven reasons why:
- Lots of innovation on display
While SXSW hasn’t served as the launch platform for a company like Twitter (2007), Foursquare (2009) or GroupMe (2010) in the past few years, the conference still provides a good view into the future. This year wearable devices, collaborative living, 3D printing and the consumerization of virtual reality came to the forefront.
- Brands can still be disruptive
Brands hosted numerous events and interactive experiences. Mondelēz International stopped crowds with its Oreo printer that custom-printed cookies with creme colors, flavors and patterns based on Twitter trends (watch a video we shot of our Oreo being printed at the bottom of this post). Subway hosted a brain scan game. Philips showcased an augmented reality (AR) grooming app. American Express Serve handed out free haircuts a part of its #ServeSomeGood campaign, while IBM’s Watson supercomputer dished out great eats with its Cognitive Cooking food truck through a partnership with the Institute for Culinary Education (ICE). Plus, publishers such as Yahoo! hosted an interview content series, while Mashable had fun with a Miley Cyrus-inspired “Wrecking Ball” photo-op, Grumpy Cat photo bombs and Mastercard’s #PricelessSurprises vending machine that required you to tweet to get a surprise gift.
- A hotbed for startups
SXSW hosted a variety of accelerators and startup competitions. These always highlight what’s coming next. Some of the startups that emerged from the crowd were YouEarnedIt, Trustev, OneSpot and Eyeris.
- Top-notch speakers
As always, SXSW speakers highlight trends or some other provocative topic. This year, the big focus was on data privacy with speakers including Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. Let’s not forget that keynotes were delivered by Chelsea Clinton, Neil deGrasse Tyson, 23andMe’s Anne Wojcicki, MythBuster’s co-host Adam Savage and best-selling author Austin Cleon. And to top it all off, a panel introduced by ESPN President John Skipper featuring The Sports Guy Bill Simmons of Grantland and FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver kicked off the first year of SXSWsports.
- A+ Networking
SXSW remains the place to meet industry experts across brands, agencies and the media. It has become the place to reconnect or connect in-person with individuals passionate about innovation and digital.
- Celebrity Spotting
Because SXSW is a convergence of interactive, film and music, it has become a cultural hot-spot. Noted celebrities sighted during the festival included Zac Efron, Jason Bateman, Lena Dunham, Kristen Bell, Ethan Hawk, Lady Gaga, Brooklyn Decker, Jay Z, Snoop Dogg, Seth Rogen and Kevin Bacon. Late-night hosts Jimmy Kimmel and Seth Meyers brought their shows on the road to Austin, while comedy legend Bill Cosby made the Funny or Die house at SXSW a stop on his tour.
It’s been 27 years since SXSW was launched in Austin, Texas and the city has benefited immensely from this nearly month-long event that brings over 50,000 people into town. The city is now a vibrant cultural center with the best in food, music and art and an emerging tech culture. To support the growing conference, several new hotels are being built downtown that should be ready for SXSW 2015.
As promised, here’s a video of our custom-filled Oreo being made: