Chasing Authenticity At SXSW
SXSW is all over the place. Literally. Not only are the events scattered throughout the downtown Austin area, but the content is coming at various aspects of hipness, culture and technology. It is hard to tell what this festival is about.
The sheer insanity of the crowds at OMMA Mobile and OMMA Social at SXSW was a sight to behold. Hundreds were already packed into a large ballroom, and we had lines of people inside and outside the AT&T Conference Center, with some shuttle buses of more attendees being turned away. Oh, the humanity. The pink hair and matching tights were sitting beside the Italian-suited creative directors. The international representation, simply judging from the range of accents, was impressive. Who knows how many live blogs were being updated from our meeting room, but there were times when typing echoes were bleeding into our own audio stream.
What this diverse crowd heard from many of our speakers, if they were listening carefully, is why so many agencies and brand marketers were there among them. We are chasing them. The connected generation are the ones who have changed the game for all aspects of advertising and marketing.
The persistent message from all of the speakers and sessions was that business as usual is a death sentence for any brand that wants to communicate via social and mobile channels. As our own Bob Garfield underscored in his keynote for OMMA Social, the consumers just don’t believe you as brands. They smell your obfuscations and empty puffery. They have endless channels of communications that they know better than you do to check up on the truth of any claim. And they probably never trusted you much in the first place anyway.
Just about everyone on our stage throughout the day in one way or another were trying to explain “authenticity.” Marketers have been talking about “relationship building” for eons -- but now they have to really mean it.
Walgreens' Rich Lesperance explained how they came to the simple insight about their app after having tried the routes of offering gaming and fun experiences on mobile platforms. This is a convenience and drug store, they admitted to themselves. People want the app to make the Walgreens experience more seamless. And so they found that giving people the ability to scan their prescription bottles to remote order a refill was the killer feature. Once they added this central convenience, then they could start experimenting with different features to see how users responded.
Dina Juliano of HBO talked about how her company’s second-screen experience was grounded first in giving people what they wanted most from HBO -- access to the full library of original programming -- so that has been the leading feature. From there HBO Go is being iterated for synchronized experiences and deeper drills where they make sense. Both she and ABC’s Karin Gilford, who discussed the Oscars' second-screen experience, agreed that the next big stage for these apps will be personalization -- letting people take more control of what second-screen experience works best for their viewing habits and their favorite shows.
And PBS’s Kevin Dando explained how PBS leveraged Twitter’s second-screen power after Presidential nominee Mitt Romney mentioned in a debate with President Obama that he would cut PBS funding even though “I like Big Bird.” Dando says they resisted a powerful reflex to post an immediate response into the Twittersphere. Instead they waited a day before posting Big Bird’s own nonpartisan and clever response but to craft their own post. As Kevin said, it was better to sit back and see what the Twitter cosmos made of the mention and the trending Big Bird topic before posting. Rather than simply being Johnny on the spot to prove how connected and responsive they are, PBS instead let the social channels tell them what a good response might be. Not taking part in the social commentary in real-time was actually one of the best ways to assert PBS’s brand image as contemplative and politically impartial.
Both mobile and social channels are forcing marketers to have their brands act like human beings. Anything less is beaten back as inauthentic and unwelcome. Which is also to say that these emerging channels are, by their very nature, more intimate and have low tolerance for advertising as usual.