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Deep in the smart of Texas

A playful ponder of what happened at this year’s SXSW in Austin by Richard Norton, Executive Creative Director, Indicia/Konica Minolta Marketing Services



Published on Monday, 23rd April 2018

As we prepare to hurtle into May, the idea that not so long ago I was sashaying through the giddy, burrito-emblazoned streets of Austin seems somewhat unreal.

Such is the Usain-Bolt-on-Red-Bull-like pace of modern marketing. Forget that incredible interactive festival you went to, there’s a 67-slide deck on GDPR that needs proofreading by lunchtime.


This year was my second jaunt to SXSW, efficiently arranged as ever through the eternally upbeat gang at Bristol Media.

Just like Go #1 back in 2016, it was intense, immense and inspiring. And not without surprises.

This year, Steven Spielberg showed up unannounced.

Mark Hamill showed up unannounced. (Perhaps he was an astral projection.)

And then, to top it all, everyone’s favourite alien, Elon Musk, showed up, you guessed it, unannounced.

At 10.55pm on the Saturday I discovered the organisers of SXSW had arranged for Musk-bot to do a Q and A session the next day in one of the city’s theatres. Tickets would be available from 8.30am on the Sunday.

This was too good an opportunity to miss. I joined the masses (all twelve people) clamouring for a ticket at 5.45am that morning.

By 8.29am, the queue was several thousand long and snaked through the Austin Conference Centre onto the adjacent street.

Those at the back probably knew their hopes of an Elon encounter were already over. But for me, it was a case of Musk till yawn at the Paramount Theatre.

You can see what happened here. All I’m saying is I don’t know why the name Thomas Jerome Newton doesn’t come up in more articles on the visionary genius/bond villain whose middle name is Reeve.

As for the rest of SXSW, there was a big old enchilada of AI, Blockchain, VR, AR, robots, autonomous vehicles and quantum computing to sink your teeth into.

Interestingly, the experience that garnered most attention was HBO’s stellar recreation of Westworld: actors playing wild-west automatons and lab-coat-wearing scientists on a specially built set outside of Austin. Think of it as Stetsons meet Jetsons.

It just goes to show: people love real experiences. Let the piano tinkle, the bourbon pour and they will come - this was immersive theatre turned up to eleven.

As a last hurrah, and to give you a steer (see what I did there?) as to why you really need to be in Texas come 2019, I’ve put together a Soundcloud playlist of 100 talks from Austin. This should keep you busier than a wrangler at the rodeo.