It’s that time of year again — SXSW has taken over the city of Austin, Texas for 10 days of keynotes, panels, product launches, parties and brand experiences for the creatives and marketers who play in the music, film and tech sectors to name but a few. Here are just some of my top event highlights…

Move over FOMO, there’s a new acronym in town: First things first, there are so many things happening on any given day, that it’s hard not to feel as though you’re missing out. In fact, FOMO doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt as I made my way around the event — I experienced a whole new sensation — one of FOTMC — fear of too much choice, and FONSE — fear of not seeing enough. There truly is something for everyone here.

Brands immerse us in new, interactive ways: I am familiar with how the problem-solving focused escape room experience works, so it was interesting to see brands got on the bandwagon this year. Unfortunately, my FOMO got the better of me here and I didn’t actually get to take part in these brand activations as they ended early on in the piece, but I heard that the Star Wars-inspired Rogue One escape room from Disney was like a maze, and people were tasked with solving different clues in order to make it to the next stage. There was also HBO, who taking inspiration from their Game of Thrones programme, got in on the action with an experience that spanned three rooms. At the end of the challenge, participants could sit on the famous Iron Throne and even sip on some Game of Thrones wines, which are due for release in the US in the spring.

IBM takes a new approach: I was really impressed by the IBM stand at SXSW. With its black and white colour palette, outdoor roof bar, lounge seating and live DJ, it really looked and felt like the coolest place to be. You could see that the brand had applied robust methodologies like design thinking to the space, and there was a real feel of creative collaboration. This represents a fresh new way of thinking for the brand — and as I got talking to with one of the IBM hosts, they noted that the experience, concept and look and feel were in fact conceived in-house.

All things go for AI: During a panel session — which featured a pro-bono project we worked on for the United Nations refugee crisis called Uable — the focus was on the intersection of technology and people. This elicited talk about artificial intelligence (AI) and how machines will bring about a democratisation of intelligence because they will soon be able to perform tasks for people enabling a better world. There was a preview to this world at The Japan Factory, where I was struck by two robots conversing with one another — they were having a completely normal chat about current events without any prompts or assistance from a human.

Ready for 2018: While I always make a point to read up on the latest happenings at the annual event, this year I got to experience it as an overwhelmed first-timer. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, and now I can safely say that no amount of preparation or analysing of the event schedule can prepare you for the exhilarating, whirlwind adventure that is SXSW. It’s safe to say, my fear of FOMO has ensured I’ll be back again next year.


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