Haydn Kerr
Mar 18, 2014

From privacy to genetics to beacons: Six takeaways from SXSW

With over 800 sessions in just 5 days, SXSW Interactive is like Glastonbury for geeks. And it’s utterly impossible to summarise. But here are my key take-outs.

Haydn Kerr
Haydn Kerr

1. Privacy is in the spotlight

SXSW14 will be remembered for who wasn’t there. The two biggest speakers had to dial in from exile. Julian Assange spoke over Skype from the Equadorian Embassy in London. And Ed Snowden beamed in from Russia via seven proxy servers.

But it was Google’s Eric Schmidt who began the debate around privacy, saying Google was “attacked” by the US government in 2013. Assange went further: “the military occupation of the internet is the military occupation of our society.” Snowden issued a call to arms to the tech industry, “The NSA are setting fire to the future of the internet. And you are the firefighters.”

This will have implications for advertisers. As Snowden reminded us, the tools we use to communicate, like Gmail and android, are created by advertising companies, specifically with surveillance in mind. They peek into our emails to serve us targeted advertising. This opens the door for government surveillance.

My prediction: privacy will become a mainstream concern. Customers will expect brands to keep their information secure and private. And this will impact the way we deliver targeted comms.

2. The big story is… there is no big story

SXSW14 will also be remembered for what didn’t happen. There was no major launch like Twitter or Foursquare that promised to change everything.

More from SXSW 2014

It’s like consumers have reached saturation. Instead, the biggest new launches bolt onto your existing networks. Whisper and Secret allow you to share secrets anonymously. And Jelly, a new mobile app from twitter co-founder Biz Stone, allows you to ask questions and get answers from your wider network.

3. Genetics is the new frontier

Genetics will become a part of everyday life – that’s the message from SXSW speakers. Bioengineering has the power to transform manufacturing, according to the director of MIT media labs, Joi Ito. He predicts that we’ll be printing genes at home in our lifetime. And one day we’ll be growing a chair from a seed. As crazy as this sounds, it’s worth listening to him on this—he was an early investor in Twitter, Path, Flickr, Lastfm and Kickstarter, so he has a knack for predicting the future.

23andMe is already using genetics to change the healthcare system. They’ll give you a genome report for $99 (a report that costs health insurers $1,400 through traditional channels). This report allows you to own your health data and take charge of your healthcare. The revolution has been stalled however: the FDA recently ordered 23andMe to stop marketing its healthcare service. 

4. Context is the new king

The closer you get to the point of sale, the greater the effect your message will have. And that’s why we’re all going to need to know about iBeacons and other location-based messaging services.

The potential for retail is clear—you arrive in a grocery store, and immediately get a targeted message that draws on everything we know about you. It could be a recipe for burritos—because tortillas are discounted on aisle five, because you bought chillies in your last shop, because it’s 5.30pm on a Friday, and because it’s a popular recipe in your area.

This is the evolution of retail’s oldest trick—the mailer. Customers always want to know what’s cheap. And now we have the power to tell you about the discounted products you’re actually likely to buy. And we can give you this message at the most useful moment—when you’re in store.

5. Online video is mainstream. Online TVs are the future.

By 2017, 60 per cent of televisions will be connected to the Internet. So who is going to feed the TV in your home?

The digital players are wiping the floor with the TV networks. A few stats: Fox has 7 million online views per month; YouTube has 190 million. Mad Men’s final episode got 2.5 million views; AOL’s own content regularly gets 8 or 9 million. And while it takes years for TV networks to add channels, Roku is adding two channels every day.

If you haven’t heard of Roku, look it up. My money says this is giving us the clearest glimpse into the future of online television.

6. Brands can be the connective tissue between new tech and real people

A real gem from Contagious magazine’s co-founder and editorial director, Paul Kemp-Robertson. Every day, we hear about a new exciting tech emerging from labs and start-ups. But mass audiences can feel intimidated by this new tech. And we’re seeing plenty of great ideas winning Kickstarter funds, but then failing to make it to market.

Brands can get these products out of beta and into the hands of consumer. They have the scale, the resources and (in most cases) the trust of their customers. They just require the vision. And the investment.

Haydn Kerr is DDB Group New Zealand’s Digital Creative Director.


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