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Opinion: SXSW Continues to Deliver Best in Brand Experiences

As the dust settles in Austin and the annual SXSW, Jonny Davis, EVP of Allied Global Marketing looks back on some of the key trends that were discussed and some of the slick and engaging brand experiences that made the event unforgettable.

From cutting-edge technology to emerging entertainment trends, SXSW 2023 was a 10-day extravaganza of ideas, innovation, and creativity.

Not surprisingly, artificial intelligence (AI) is definitely the hot topic right now; as you can imagine it was everywhere at the festival. A highlight in this space was Jonah Peretti from Buzzfeed discussing The AI-Powered Future of Creativity (as bonus you can listen back here).

A number of major brands at SXSW, from giants like Microsoft to small startups, revealed how their use of AI in the near future revolves around hyper-personalization, automation, and data-driven decision-making. AI will let brands analyse vast amounts of data to identify consumer trends and preferences. This will drive innovation, streamline processes, and deliver value to both businesses and consumers.

Dressed in cool, calming colours, the Lush House included a wall of Lush products (such as bath bombs) where, after downloading the brand’s app, visitors could scan a camera over a package-free product and have all the information that would usually be on packaging pop up. A Bath Bot, a speaker floating in a big basin of water, played music so you can now have a rave while soaking in the tub. There was also an AI fairy you could have a full conversation with on a screen.

Elsewhere, Dolby launched Dolby House. The experience showcased a variety of installations celebrating the world’s leading entertainers and creatives who are using Dolby technologies – like Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos immersive audio – to push the boundaries of entertainment.

We got to experience one of Dolby’s latest innovations, Dolby Atmos for cars, in a Mercedes-Benz top-of-the-line Maybach S-Class sedan, and get a “first listen” of Sonos Era 300, the brand’s newest Dolby Atmos-enabled smart speaker, which was announced earlier this week.

Sustainability was also on the agenda and Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert, was interviewed by Katie Couric as part of the keynote event. Gellert said that the agriculture sector is “one of the most broken” when it comes to the environment. He said Patagonia wants to model new environmental stewardship. “I would love to see that happen. I think we could drive the biggest change in that space.”

Meanwhile at The Highball at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, Dungeons & Dragons fans could enjoy a fluorescent “Dragon’s Brew” among the immersive wooden interior and of course, the Gelatinous Cube.

The Roku House was themed around Roku City—the streamer’s default screensaver—with the activation meant to resemble the on-screen design.

Those attending the VIP opening on Friday night were greeted by “Alice in Wonderland” characters and shepherded into a Roku-branded beauty salon for the opportunity to get a makeover complete with stick-on face gems and purple heart-shaped glasses.

Upstairs, Roku created a love lock bridge, where attendees were given locks to write on and affix to the bridge. A rooftop VIP party included sparkling purple drinks, purple cupcakes, and a purple Roku Diner, which took reservations for meals throughout the weekend.

Paramount+’s lodge was designed to reflect the streamer’s “mountain of entertainment” concept, with each level showcasing distinct themes. The first floor resembled a ski lodge, complete with leather chairs, a bar, and a “Grease”-themed car where visitors could don pink jackets like those worn by the Pink Ladies. Meanwhile, the top floor featured a photo opportunity with the Vince Lombardi Trophy and a chance to create your own unique piece of vinyl artwork. The rooftop bar was themed around “1923,” the prequel to “Yellowstone.”

Not to be outdone, Amazon delivered in style as Hotel San Jose was transformed into a variety of different spaces that let fans immerse themselves in the Prime Video Shows Daisy Jones & The Six, The Boys, Swarm, The Summer I Turned Pretty, The Power, Academy of Country Music Awards, I’m A Virgo, Harlem, and Carnival Row. Standout experiences included a collab with thrift store Goodfair where you could get a personalized denim jacket, custom tattoos and the many DJ’s that took to the stage.

Elsewhere, Slack showcased the future of work with their immersive walkthrough experience. You could journey through an immersive installation to try new tools and features, and get a life-size look at channels, huddles, clips and app integrations. If you were looking to snap some post-worthy photos, this was the place for you.

A nice collaboration between Porsche and Transformers brought high spec race cars and a giant Optimus Prime to the streets of Austin. An AR experience created a gamified moment for fans to engage with Optimus Primal.

Camp YellowJackets transformed Fairmarket into key locations from the series. There was a recreation of the cabin, axe throwing, food that they swear was not people, the altar, and signature cocktails. Plenty of photo ops on display, lots of little nuggets about the series, DJs and more.

It was an inspiring few days in Texas and good news continues as SXSW Sydney is around the corner. We can’t wait to find out what it has in order. See you all down under!

Jonny Davis is Executive Vice President, Brand Experience with Allied Global Marketing.

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