A Roundup of Our Favorites from SXSW

Racepoint Global

Written by: Account Services Team – Racepoint Global Boston

Last week the South by Southwest 2018 conference and festival took Austin by storm, celebrating the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries. The event brings together one of the most diverse, collaborative, and inventive communities in the world for a week and a half. The conference and festival merge creativity, innovation, and technology through a series of sessions, showcases, and exhibitions. Here are a few of our favorite announcements and experiences from the event.


Perhaps one of the most talked about SXSW experiences was HBO’s recreation of Westworld’s sci-fi western town of Sweetwater, complete with character actors, a “real” western backdrop, and iconic locations like the Mariposa Saloon. Visitors – including the likes of Elon Musk – were transported into the show, VR headset not required. Despite being 20 minutes outside of Austin, the experience drew huge attention (though the bus ride was just the beginning of the adventure). Once inside, visitors could interact with the townspeople and explore mysterious glimpses into the upcoming second season of the show – from a silent, wandering Samurai to hidden numbers that when combined, unlocked a secret laboratory. HBO had two critical things right that all marketers can take a cue from – authenticity and participation. They invited their fans to create their own brand story, deepening their connection with the Westworld franchise – and generating countless social sharing opportunities in the process.

Bose AR

While most augmented reality devices overlay data and experiences onto reality visually, Bose introduced its audio AR glasses at SXSW this year. The sunglasses have built-in headphones to offer audio-based experiences overlaid onto reality. The company envisions a wearer arriving at the airport and getting directions to their gate when their GPS detects their location, and is exploring other ways sound can augment our lives. Bose demonstrated the technology, called Bose AR, with a 3D-printed prototype and announced its plans to develop the product this year.

Brands may soon need to think about how they can incorporate this technology into their stores, up leveling the retail experience. With the surge in flagship stores trying to provide shoppers with a unique experience, retailers would surely look for buzzy ways to use it to draw foot traffic to their brick and mortar locations. However, this will all depend on whether people choose to purchase and use the product. With visual AR products like Google Glass and Snap Spectacles failing to gain user adoption, it remains to be seen if Bose AR can prove itself a device worth wearing.

Purpose-Driven Marketing

This year at SXSW, two brands were recognized for their stand out purpose-driven marketing efforts; PepsiCo for their LifeWtr product and Stella Artois’s Water.org initiative. Both brands recognize that having just a CSR program is no longer sufficient because consumers, specifically millennials, expect more. They expect brands to demonstrate their beliefs and values every day, not just in moments, through all of their actions. PepsiCo is turning water into art with their Lifewtr product designs; every bottle features emerging artists including public art, women in art, fashion designers and arts in education. They activated their marketing across social, in galleries, out-of-home, and VR efforts. Their awareness campaign around female artists has driven over 200 million impressions. For the past three years, Stella Artois has partnered with Water.org where they donate part of the purchase of its limited-edition beer chalice to the organization. This year, its 30-second Super Bowl spot featuring Matt Damon brought the brand and partnership to a new level – clean water became part of the social conversation at the same awareness level as climate change. Now that these two brands have demonstrated impact on society and their business, it will be exciting to see how others follow suit.

Google Fun House

Keeping with the traditional SXSW theme of experiential marketing, Google created a whole house in downtown Austin dedicated to their connected home products. As a play on a carnival “fun house,” the brand incorporated their connected products throughout, specifically their new Google Assistant, to show conventional and not so conventional uses.

  • Living room: A dinner table with Google’s AI-enabled Pixelbook being demoed
  • Kitchen: A round of margaritas made with Google Assistant by saying “OK Google, make margaritas”
  • Bedroom: Following one too many margaritas, Google Assistant shut the blinds and turned on Netflix via the Home Mini
  • Garden: Bright pink flamingos in the yard danced via voice activation, followed by a sprinkler system turning on

The home provided use cases for a variety of Google products for visitors to see how easily they can be incorporated into their lives. The home was also perfect for sharing socially, with countless Instagrammable scenarios, extending to people who couldn’t make it to SXSW.

Pinterest House

The visual discovery engine Pinterest also provided SXSW attendees with an entire “house” to explore. The most noted aspect of the large takeover of well-known Austin bar, The Container Bar, was the “Taste Tuner,” a life-size installation version of Pinterest, which allowed users to swipe through content like home décor, yards, outfits, and more. Once their taste was curated, users were given their own “Taste Graph” which outlined their personalized taste and preferences to take home. There have been mixed reviews surrounding the Taste Tuner and whether the juice was worth the squeeze. But, the interactive installations provided an interesting way of exploring home décor and installations/appliances; it will be interesting to see if this inspires brands to utilize this kind of experience in their future store presentations.

This year’s conference brought to light many upcoming trends in voice activation, virtual reality, and more. We also saw marketing and technology converge through purpose-driven and experiential marketing. We’ll be keeping an eye out this year to see how these trends manifest and develop over the course of 2018 and beyond.