South by Southwest day 1: Tech trends that will change society, not just marketing

Ogilvy Australia's head of digital reflects on the 30th anniversary of South by Southwest and how this year's line-up demonstrates the power of technology

South by Southwest is 30 years old today, but that word 'old' shouldn't be taken the wrong way.

With over 300 inspiring and future-focused events held over eight days, SXSW is considered a crystal ball for the marketing, tech, film, arts - and now health - industries. Twitter first premiered at SXSW in 2007, and back then no-one would have predicted it would become the daily communications platform for a president.

Thousands of people from all over the world migrate to Austin, Texas to hear from a range of keynote speakers, attend sessions, workshops, exhibits and installations, all in a festival atmosphere.

The line-up of sessions is so diverse and intriguing, there's a constant sense of FOMO as you can't possibly attend everything on your favourites list. And the long lines of people for each session are equally intriguing. A mixed bag of ages, nationalities, personalities and hair colours. Every stereotype harmoniously mixes; hipsters, geeks, film producers, artists, musicians, executives, developers and more. A common tech vibe pervades.

It's the end of day one for SXSW and already my brain has been tickled by talk of smart cities, machine learning, algorithmic industrial design and more. I’ve heard speakers from Airbnb, Pinterest, Verizon, IBM, National Geographic, MIT Media Lab and the Mayor of Atlanta. And that’s just the first day.

There’s no doubt from this early stage of the event that key themes for marketers are emerging. And the interesting thing is that they’re not individual technologies, or the latest shiny toys. They are trends that will impact many areas of business, not just marketing. In fact, they will impact society and shift economies.

Artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, virtual reality, advanced wireless connectivity, smart objects – these are shifts so fundamental and challenging to many of our brands, products and ways of living, that it’s clear that those brands that start to anticipate these changes and act accordingly will have a distinct advantage. Collaboration is the formula for accelerated progress to make your brand matter in the technology fuelled future.

Opportunities abound for those that start to understand and experiment with change, and the laggards face extinction. It sounds like rhetoric, but when you see the scale and pace of advancement on show here, you get a true sense of what the future may hold, or at least the need to embrace it wholeheartedly.

There’s much more in store over the coming week and I look forward to sharing more with you.

- Jason Davey is the head of digital for Ogilvy Australia.

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