Blog: Remembering our roots

Dan Keene, managing partner of agency Slice, on why the experiences at SXSW and AWE missed the mark.

Dan Keene, managing partner of Slice, on Sony's experience at SXSW 2017
Dan Keene, managing partner of Slice, on Sony's experience at SXSW 2017

I always enjoy this time of year. With SXSW, Advertising Week and a whole host of other industry festivals taking place, I can sit back with a cuppa and indulge myself in the inspiring experiences that come out of them. But this year the stories felt different.

Why? It’s simple, they weren’t different at all. What’s happened to all the amazing brand experiences that we’re used to seeing?

The answer, surprisingly for me, is technology.

Don’t get me wrong, I love tech and how it’s propelled our industry and the way we can connect with our audiences forward. But have we let it take over? It seems that marketers care more about which reality is in vogue, from AR and VR to the hybrid realities MR (Mixed Reality) and BR (Blended Reality). I even read a comment where someone was referring to a tech-free experience as RR (real reality). Confused? Me too…although I think the answer is straight forward.

We need to go back to why we do what we do in the first place; creating relevant real world experiences that add value to our audiences’ lives. Technology can, and does, play a big part, but as industry experts we need to have a human first approach, albeit in an increasingly digital world. Once we get this bit right we can layer in the right tools to make the experience as compelling as possible.

I tested this theory on some proper brains at Engine (Slice’s parent company), who went to SXSW this year, and they agreed. They collectively felt the festival freshness that has attracted culturally hungry pilgrims since its inception had (broadly) been replaced with a megcorp takeover. The likes of Sony and IBM have waded in with their ‘houses’, which are all very impressive, but they lack the boundless energy and openness of a start-up. The combination of their deep pockets and ever evolving gadgets for us to play with certainly keep us entertained, but do they bring us closer to their brand?

It’s this takeover that I feel might be where technology is being used for technology’s sake within live experiences. We can’t stop it all from happening - and in fact we shouldn’t always want to (some of it really is amazing).

But every once in a while we should remember what makes our marketing channel so unique - real human to human interaction. Nothing is more powerful than this.

The future is most certainly bright for our industry, but let’s not forget our roots as we tackle a world that’s trying to push us into parallel realities. For me, I’m going to keep celebrating everything technology has to offer, but I’m not going to forget the stuff that ultimately makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.

Dan Keene is managing partner of agency Slice.

More: SXSW Eventographic: 18 stats marketers should know

Blog: Blended experiential - the best things at SXSW 2017

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