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During this year's SXSW Interactive Conference, Carat USA's Haley Paas and Sarah Stringer noticed the festival's evolution, going beyond just the latest tech and taking on the tough topics. Check out Carat's top eight trends at SXSW 2018.
South by Southwest evolves, taking on tough topics
– not just latest tech.
Launched in 1994, a small festival in Austin, Texas,
developed a reputation for discovering the next big
In 2007, SXSW was the launching pad for the once
tiny micro-blogging site called Twitter. Two years
later, a social location platform Foursquare became
the talk of the show.
But the festival, originally known for deal-making,
fundraising and app launches, has evolved. In fact, it
hasn’t had a breakout app since Meerkat went viral in
This year, the conference reflected a changing tech
landscape. Panelists tackled major issues like
decentralization, inclusion, cybersecurity, sexual
harassment, healthcare, surveillance, and the
responsibility social platforms have to place checks on
Panelists, filmmakers, and music acts represented a
noticeably more diverse array of talent than in the
past – showcasing more women and people of color.
Overall, sessions left conference goers with a feeling
of empowerment, ownership, and a message that we
need to create the change that we want to see- be it
in tech, innovation, marketing, or entertainment.
“MY WORLD IS AN EXTENDED BETA TEST.”
- Rachel Zoe, Designer/Influencer/Media Mogul/Entrepreneur
Arguably, the hottest ticket in town at this year’s
SXSW was the surprise Q&A with Elon Musk.
His Q&A with co-creator of HBO’s Westworld,
Jonathan Nolan, was a refreshing mix of inspirational
unlimited possibilities and realistic issues that both
Tesla and SpaceX have faced including, in 2008,
when both companies nearly went bankrupt.
As brands, Tesla and SpaceX look beyond themselves
to give humanity new platforms, and technology to
further us all. As an example, the genesis of SpaceX
was ‘how do we get NASA more funding?’ Elon spoke
of how the moon landing gave our grandparents a
sense of awe and wonder about space, but that more
recent generations didn’t have a reference point, and
the latest Falcon launch was SpaceX’s last chance to
get it right.
He warned us of humanity’s demise due to AI, an
inevitable 3rd world war and why laws should be
digestible and have a sunset clause.
“…LIFE CANNOT JUST BE ABOUT SOLVING ONE MISERABLE THING
AFTER ANOTHER...THERE NEED TO BE THINGS THAT INSPIRE YOU,
THAT MAKE YOU GLAD TO WAKE UP IN THE MORNING AND BE PART
OF HUMANITY. THAT’S WHY WE DID THIS.”
- Elon Musk, Founder CEO SpaceX, Co-founder CEO Tesla
There was a shift in mindset and action from Start-
Ups at SXSW.
A sense of frustration at the red-tape and approval
processes from legacy brands to government seemed
to echo throughout talks across multiple panels this
Panels spoke of brand and government responsibility
of the impending implosion of 20% of U.S’s workforce
jobs due to the roll-out of self driving cars being
ignored and how re-education for emerging
technology should be a key focus for all.
VC funds talked about how they’re seeing a scramble
from legacy brands acquiring start-ups, only to have
them sit in a room in a large building gathering dust
and how this is causing start-ups to reassess their
strategy and value propositions.
We’re now seeing start-ups circumnavigate brands,
who can be too slow and cautious to get to market
with a product and scale, and opt for getting
increased funding from investors to create their own
systems to get to market.
A worrying trend for brands who will need to rethink
investment strategies and ‘behave more like a startup’
and mean it.
“THERE’S A SHIFT IN AMBITION IN START UPS. THEY’RE NO LONGER
LOOKING TO BUILD A PLATFORM TO SELL. THEY’LL BUILD THE CAR
AND THEY’LL BUILD THE FACTORY, FROM SCRATCH.”
- Bilal Zuberi, Lux Capital
Fashion PSM (pre social media) was an industry
dominated by print publishing. Big brands were
encouraged to pander to the masses, high fashion
didn’t mix with low/budget brands, and the only
acceptable look was a slender frame. Actresses/
models were always the face of big campaigns.
Shifting to 10 years later; digital dominates,
Instagram is a discovery and shopping platform,
successful brands are ones that have a point of
view, all body shapes are celebrated (and make
brands money), luxury brands are partnering with
wallet friendly stores, and the glam squads
supporting famous faces are at times more
influential than the celebs themselves.
Advice to brands trying to make an impact by
using social media: “The best fashion brands on
social media are giving me a point of view. Don’t
just give me a picture of a girl in a skirt.” - Hillary
Kerr, Clique Media Group
On the panel “Platform Co-Ops: Competitive Edge,
Social Purpose”, academics and business owners
discussed how a new business ownership structure,
companies that have an element of employee or
public control, are going to dominate the online
Key Principles of a Real Sharing Economy:
1.) Voluntary and Open Membership
2.) Member Participation
3.) Education, Transparency, & Information for
4.) Concern for Community
“We believe in radical transparency with our
members. It’s an ongoing conversation that
results in trust.”
- Julie Yost Stocksy CEO & Co-Founder
All verticals, but especially for those with an
active online presence.
Similarly, in “A World of Blockchain Powered
Communities” Digital Town a blockchain based
start-up, aims to make a positive impact on local
communities. They allow members to earn ‘city
tokens’ by partaking in community programs and
spending with local businesses. There’s an
increasing backlash on the extraction economy of
large online brands such as Amazon, Airbnb and
Uber taking money away from local community
spending, and the transparency of blockchain is
giving consumers back the choice of where their
spending power goes.
Diversity and inclusion was a hot topic at SXSW
2018. The importance of this topic was boiled
down into one key theme by Ta-Nehisi Coates,
author of Black Panther comics. “We need more
symbols of positive diversity, Black Panther is just
another great symbol in culture.” While
entertainment has made progress in this area, with
the Black Panther movie recently hitting $1 billion
”The cast is a beautiful testament to the diversity of
a culture that people often lump together as one.”
- Ta-Nehisi Coates, national correspondent for The
Atlantic, best-selling author, and author of Black Panther
in global box office sales, brands who are going all
in on diversity and inclusion are also seeing positive
results from press and in their sales. The LIFEWTR
brand’s mission is to close the 46% gap of women
who are artists, but not represented in permanent
art collections. Inspired by these statistics,
LIFEWTR created a series of public acts to
demonstrate the gender inequality in art today.
With over 4 million views on YouTube, they’ve
recently extended this mission to focus Art
Education in schools.
R/GA’s Executive Creative Director AJ Hassan and
Todd Kaplan, PepsiCo VP of Marketing spoke to
the different ways that brands can build purpose
into their DNA, touting examples from Budweiser,
Clorox, and Whirlpool.
There are 3 ways that brands can think about
1.) Cause: Moments that help meet someone’s
need. (Ex. Whirlpool)
2.) Cultural: Moments that make a statement. (Ex.
3.) Core: More than a moment, a consistent mode
of behavior. (Ex. Clorox & LIFEWTR)
Another recent example is Dick’s Sport Goods
recent Olympic ad and their strong stance on
removing automatic weapons from all of their
Having a purpose strategy is also good for business,
with 80% of Millennials identifying as belief driven
buyers. For those who strive to take on a Core
purpose strategy, they should keep in mind that they
need to live and breathe their purpose 365 days a
year, it needs to inform all aspects of their product
and marketing efforts, and they need to want to
“do” more than “sell”.
Ira Glass is best known as a producer and editor of the
addictive podcast and radio show “This American Life,” he
was also the brains behind the hit podcast Serial and
knows a few things about how to be an impactful
storyteller. Ira talked about his success being driven by
reporting facts like a storyteller, which is not how a
traditional journalist would approach a story.
“If you are in the stories business, you are in the feelings
business.” - Ira Glass
In his SXSW Keynote presentation, Ira outlined 5 steps on
how to be a better storyteller:
1.) Tell a Story: There should be a narrative with a plot. If
you are using images with your audio, they should be
additive versus just illustrating the audio. A great example
from this is a New Yorker magazine cover that was turned
into a video.
2.) Failure is a Success: Teams should ideate often and
not be precious about killing ideas. His team at This
American Life doesn’t move forward with half the ideas
that they start, and they celebrate that stat.
3.) Amuse Yourself: You have to be cunning to get people
to listen to something that is traditionally boring. Don’t
play by the rules of having to separate humor and
seriousness. Follow what you find interesting.
4.) Try New Things: Some examples that he’s done with
This American Life that have been very non-traditional for
a podcast include- temporary tattoos,
commissioning a play with Lin Manual (pre-Hamilton fame),
making movies, creating an animated film, and touring with
a dance company.
5.) Market without Marketing: By following rules 1-4, he has
been able to create content that travels without marketing.
Emotional, story-based content that makes you feel
something will travel faster, with less money spent marketing
it than rational ‘boring’ content.
The key takeaway for brands is that we should act like
storytellers, not journalists. Journalists focus on the facts and
lead with the key takeaway. Storytellers take you on a plot
based journey that keeps you engaged until the very end.
All verticals that create content
“Recipes are dead the way that paper maps are
dead. When people think about dinner, they pull
out their phone or laptop now. I love my cookbooks
the way I love vinyl records.”
- Tyler Florence, Food Network Chef & Co-Founder of
Innit Food App
Recipes used to be about tradition and passing
them down for generations. However, with the
changes in technology, people are now using
recipes as a baseline, but then riff on them based
on the ingredients they have on hand and personal
People are also now more aware of food waste,
with Americans wasting $160 billion in food thrown
out every year. Adopting meal kits is one big way to
reduce food waste.
On a food panel titled The Evolution of Eating,
chefs and Ye-Jeong Kim from Google Assistant
talked about how brands need to now connect the
entire eating ritual- from thinking about what to
make, to shopping, to cooking, to eating and
documenting what you are eating.
The future of food is about customization,
personalization, on-demand, and sharing food
experiences. Meal kits are taking a turn, with big
brand investment, and even Pharma thinking about
how food can be a part of people’s overall treatment
plan. Even Walmart is adding pre-made meal kits to
2,000 stores in 2018, offering both convenience and
helping reduce food waste.
The greatest achievement of mankind to date is
doubling the lifespan of humans over the last 150
years. With 1/3 of kids today now expected to live
to be over a hundred years old, the panel “Bracing
for a New Age of Longevity” was centered around
making sure we can make the most of that extra
time on planet earth.
One speaker from Unity Biotechnology, a company
focused on developing medicines that halt, slow, or
even reverse age-associated diseases, showcased
an exciting future that keeps older people
functionally young through the process of
eliminating cellular aging. They believe that:
1.) aging is a flexible, malleable thing and 2) they’ve
been able to prove that aging has control knobs.
Through their work on mice, where they deleted
scencent cells, the treated mouse was younger, for
longer and also had a 35% longer life span!
They are expecting to start treatment on humans this
year, starting with local treatments among people
who are in their mid-life years. Local treatments will
be in the knee, back of the eye, and inhaling into the
lung. The hope is that they will stop, or reverse, the
impacts of disease and aging on humans, so that we
can have a higher quality of life for longer.
The power of data transparency and blockchain
opportunities where exciting and unavoidable
themes this year, but as with the importance of
gender and racial inclusion, we are seeing those
principles being discussed in data.
In ‘Algorithms, Unconscious Bias and AI’ the panel
broached the issue of representation in engineers
building algorithms as well as the quality and value
of the data being entered into AI systems. Brands
will need to think about the data they have
available to them and how useful it is.
AI is very past based, based on old data sets. If
brands don’t check their data sets and build out
feedback loops with their community of users then
we build a system based in the past.
When brands are building out AI systems with
partners or internally, they will need to be inclusive
and look at new whole spectrum of services
including philosophers and sociologists as well as
deep learning experts to help architect a balanced
system with open, human, feedback loops.
In ‘Why is Ethereum Going to Change the World’
Joseph Lubin, Co-Founder of Ethereum and
Founder of Consensys discussed how decentralized
services sat in blockchain platforms, such as
Ethereum, to create new levels of transparency for
UJO is an open music platform using blockchain
technology to create a transparent database of
rights and rights owners, promising more control
and insights to creators and a direct source of
income via Ether, rather than relying on the music
label format, where labels can take 70-80% of the
revenue generated rather than the artist.
Blockchain will give brands and users a more direct
line to each other outside of platforms such as
Google and Amazon.
ARwall is an AR display that requires no
headset, no goggles, no smart device. It
eliminates the need to use green screen
by creating perfect in-camera composites
for film, TV and live experiences. It can
provide immersive experiences outside of
a headset or handset allowing for group
experiences at scale.
START-UP ACCELERATOR OVERVIEW: TEST OR BUY
Carat recommends: TEST. Ent, Tech, clients, brand campaigns & activations
GoKid works with schools to solve the
transportation needs of thousands of
students by providing parents with an
easy-to-use tool to create and manage
carpools. The system reduces traffic,
emissions and safety concerns, building
a community of parents in a secure
portal. Great for brands looking to
surround snacking, BTS, education
programs and sports.http://nanowearinc.com/
Nanowear is a New York-based
connected-self technology platform for
diagnostics and disease management,
based on proprietary cloth-based
nanosensors and analytics. Nanowear is
striving to deliver ultimate diagnostic
comfort and efficacy at a low cost for
those who wish to monitor their daily
health through to those suffering from
Carat recommends: TEST AND BUY. Healthcare, Sportswear, Insurance clients
Carat recommends: TEST. Any clients with original score needs
Vochlea Music is a creative technology
company specializing in vocally controlled
music creation. Their AI Audio Engine
performs super low-latency audio
recognition, enabling live vocal control of
any instrument. Great for clients looking
to create low cost audio/music quickly.
Carat recommends: TEST. CPG, Ent, Healthcare, Sportswear,
150 E. 42nd St.
New York, NY 10017