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Last week saw the launch of a new piece of advertising technology, hailed by all involved as “a game changer”. It turned out to be a parody of advertising technology, that then turned out to be the launch of a new advertising conference called Creative Fuel, to be held in Sydney in a few weeks time.

Timed nicely to meet the run-up to awards season, the video takes Christopher Guest-esque aim at gimmicky, technology-driven stunts that many agencies use to create work, (sometimes for a client, but not always), to put in case study videos, to enter into industry award shows.

Ant Keough’s delivery of the metaphor for the pace of technological change probably deserves ‘best in show’.

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As a target for parody, however, this is fish-in-a-barrel stuff. And possibly a little off the pace. Canada’s Rethink agency used 3D printers last year to bypass award shows altogether. A couple of years before that, John St. (again from Canadia) skewered case study video culture with this tongue-in-cheek recap of the marketing campaign for Chelsea Bedano’s 8th birthday.

You can’t stop progress.

The Creative Fuel video, however, betrays a deeper unease within traditional creative agencies. After years of striving to stay abreast of emerging technologies, understand the implications and then put the technology to use for clients, agencies now appear to be saying “stop the world, I want to get off”.

And you can scarcely blame them. The pressure to deliver innovation for its own sake (already great), has been exacerbated by the rate of technological change and amplified by the firehose of instantaneous information (read: press releases). The spectre of new technology now has Creative Departments running away in desperation. In this video, quite literally.

After years of trying to integrate digital departments, hiring (or not, in the case of W+K) Creative Technologists and appointing Innovation Officers, the current rallying cry by ad agencies to ‘get back to ideas’ is actually a neat way of stepping off the treadmill, by calling the treadmill itself into question.

My fear is that it reintroduces a dichotomy between creativity and technology that is largely meaningless and, ultimately, counterproductive.

All creativity requires technology. Not all technology is new technology.

Beginning with fire, pretty much everything we use to express ourselves or to bring about change in the world (the broadest definition of creativity), is technology. If you go back far enough, you arrive at a place where that technology was new. All new technology goes through an experimental phase while we work out what to do with it. In almost all cases, the first thing we ask of any new technology is to replicate the functionality of the technology it’s supposed to replace.

One of the first regular uses of non-military broadcast radio was a live reading of the front page of the daily newspaper, word for word, interrupted by ads. Television started by filming and broadcasting plays, which were staged and performed just as they were in the theatre, except now interrupted by ads. The first time we got our hands on one of them new-fangled mobile phones, we dragged the thing downstairs walked around outside and rang our friends to tell them that we were calling them while walking around ON THE STREET! OMG!

Actually, OMG came much later, but still relied on technology for the delivery.

So it’s not surprising that one of the first things we thought of when we were presented with the possibility of a remote control helicopter drone was to literally strap a client’s product to it.

Variations on the same idea occurred to the marketing teams at Dominos, Coke and this Scottish bakery. So many ad-fuelled drones are taking to the skies, the FAA has had to step in and issue a ban.

Eventually, we get past the obvious stuff and start tinkering, experimenting. That’s actually called innovation, where we try stuff out, maybe have a happy accident or an unexpected collaboration. In our industry, we have to somehow incorporate the brand in our experiments, because that’s how we get it paid for, not dissimilar to Beethoven naming his concertos after his patrons. Some really useful drone-powered stuff appears to be in the works, it’s just that brands and agencies don’t seemed to be involved at this point.

Clearly, not all of this early-adopter advertising-funded experimentation with technology is great. In fact, the majority of it is relatively pointless. But, as the guys (and they are all guys) in the Creative Fuel video point out, that doesn’t stop us making some very slick video case studies and entering them into advertising award shows. It also doesn’t stop these award shows from handing these very slick video case studies for largely pointless (or worse, entirely made up) work a shiny trophy from time to time.

This may well be the part that is getting the furthest up the collective noses of the Creative Directors quoted in the Creative Fuel promo video. I’m not entirely without sympathy.

Don’t throw the bluetooth out with the arduino.

Rare is the individual able to grasp the full potential of a new technology first swing at the plate. While we were all sniggering at the ‘twats’ talking with themselves in teenspeak on Twitter, CP&B took the time to understand how people were using the technology in an informal way. They quietly scaled it up and created Twelpforce, making Best Buy one of the most accessible brands in the US and casually bagging a Titanium lion in the process.

It’s important to note that Twitter had already been going for almost four years and we’d seen a lot of relatively pointless, ad-funded crap on Twitter by this point. In fact, we still do. Some of it is even winning awards.

Absent from this (entirely manufactured) debate are the voices arguing for gimmicky campaigns running on obvious (and obviously new) technology. Which makes it hard to work out who exactly the Creative Fuse crew are railing against? People who like using technology in advertising? Gullible award juries? The clients who fund this sort of work?It’s not immediately clear. Maybe they’ll turn up to debate the point in a panel discussion on the day.

Let’s go to the video one more time

While it’s a fun (if a little lengthy) video and it’s working brilliantly as a piece of marketing against the target audience, it will be interesting to see how many put their hands in their pocket for a $600+ asking price that covers just a single day of presentations. By way of comparison, SXSW gets you five days of inspiration for around the same coin, admittedly it’s a long way from Sydney. TedX at the Opera House charged half that, if you were approved.

Although Reg Mombassa is always good for a story and anything featuring the work of Dr Suess gets a tick, it looks, at a distance, to be shaping up as a full day agree-a-thon.

For my money, I just can’t buy into the technology vs creativity argument as it’s presented by the Creative Fuel promotional material. This one’s a zero-sum game – one that can’t be changed.

There’s no one without the other. Technology is part of the creative process (and creativity is inherent in all technology). Terrible ideas are terrible ideas. Awards juries will sometimes fall for these terrible ideas when they are very well packaged (please try to remember which industry you’re working in before you allow yourself to become too upset by this). Nothing to see here, move along.

History, research and pretty much anyone writing seriously on the topic knows that there are many paths to creativity.

I just don’t believe running away from technology is one of them.

 

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

Adland is drowning under a tidal surge of narrative-driven jargon. Everyone is now a storyteller. Every post is now part of a conversation. I’ve railed against this before but it has been to so little effect, I’m starting to believe I’m the marketing equivalent of the guy who washes his car just before every rainstorm.

 

Storytelling, narrative

We’ve opened the storytelling geyser.

 

The Five Types of Brand Narrative (from simple to  complex).

Seeing as we’re all getting into brand storytelling (at least until we decide we’re getting into the next thing, like, say, artisanal persuasion), we might as well see if we can’t create some sort of order from the chaos.

The First Type: An experience.

This type of marketing is striving to generate a feeling, an emotional reaction. This is really in the realm of branding (more specifically, brand association) and tries to hard-wire a correlation between the appearance or suggestion of a brand and a positive firing of neuro-somethings in your lateral sub reptilian cortex. (I’m sure someone like Rory Sutherland knows the exact medical terminology). This type of communication is subliminal and, over time, the customer response becomes Pavlovian. Think: Reef footwear and girls’ butts. Mercedes and their door-closing thud. Apple and their polished aluminum. A local example here in Singapore is Ion shopping mall and their carefully calibrated scent, continually pumped through the walkways to simultaneously relax and energise the consumer.

Constructing ‘experience’ marketing has traditionally been in the realm of sponsorships and activation, but within the digital world, the most adept practitioners now are probably UX and CX designers. If you are using mainly adverbs to describe your communication, your are probably building an experience.

message, broadcast, storytelling, brandsThe Second Type: A message.

This is a (usually) rational statement, expressed through language in a way that makes it easy for the audience to articulate back to you or, more encouragingly, to each other. That language can be textual (Think Nike and ‘Just do it’) or it can be visual (almost all car advertising; hotels, too). The message can be uplifting (Pedigree and their wonderful ‘We’re for dogs‘) or it can be really quite banal (Walmart’s Everyday low prices.) What’s important to note is that the reader has no role in this message, except to view it and understand it. We are not meant to construct our own meaning. In fact, quite the opposite. Traditionally, almost all advertising operated within this narrative type. Today, most of it still does. If you’re using mainly adjectives, you’re probably making a message.

 

The Third Type: A story.

This is a little more complex, a little messier. A story doesn’t have to necessarily be longer, but it should have some ups and downs. If not for the brand, then at least for the use-case of the product or, better still, for the audience. The ups-and-downs can be as simple as Vonnegut’s man in a hole, as formulaic as the classic 3 act structure or as sophisticated as Truby’s 22 steps, but it must have a range of action, both positive and negative. And this is why most brands can’t handle storytelling: they have no stomach for the negative, the ‘hole’ part of the Man In A Hole.

digital, technology, story, brands

Adding technology doesn’t always improve the story experience.

When you combine the Story format with digital media, all sorts of possibilities begin to emerge, but it’s important to remember that good stories are still linear, even when they are digital, or interactive (and these two things are not the same). If you want to dive into that distinction, the best explanation I’ve heard recently was from The Goggles, makers of Welcome To Pine Point, during their excellent session at SXSW.

Another realm in which technology is bringing new creative potential to traditional storytelling is the arena of Data Storytelling. Several interesting examples have emerged recently, although strictly speaking, these are stories told about data.

The key thing to remember about the Story format is that there is a range of action and emotion (including both positive and negative) and that the reader or audience is allowed some space to bring their own meaning or interpretation to the communication – another reason why some brands struggle to become true storytellers.

Even though stories may allow for some interaction (mainly in terms of navigation and pacing), they do not generally allow for user reaction and input. That belongs to…

The Fourth Type: A conversation.

The defining quality of a conversation is that it is two way. Back and forth. I say something, then you say something. Then I say something that is a reaction to that thing that you said.  Then you might have to abandon your script and think of something different to say that takes into account the thing that I just said.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 9.38.29 AM

The question remains: why?

And this really freaks brands out. Social media is a good arena to pursue a conversation format, but it does not automatically follow that your communications will be a conversation just because it is deployed on social media.

The most common criticism levelled at brands every time they take to a new social platform is that they treat it as a broadcast medium. They talk but they don’t listen. Or they listen, but they don’t respond. Or they respond but show no evidence of having understood what they heard. Or, most egregiously, no interest in understanding what they heard. “Join the conversation” is the classic direct response CTA, only slightly updated for Twitter.

The other difficult thing about the conversation format is purely a practical matter: it doesn’t scale. Technology hasn’t really solved this issue (just made it slightly easier to manage), because it is not a technological problem – it’s an inherently human one. We know this from real life. A single conversation can hold about four or five active participants before it either breaks into smaller discussions (Think: dinner party) or comes under the control of an active manager (Think: office meeting).

We see this now with the increasing recognition of the importance of Community Managers in executing these types of communications programs, and the pursuit of chatbots or ‘Embodied Conversation Agents’ that trick users into believing they are talking with another person. We’ve had the low-tech version of this for some time now: call centre scripts. Airlines, hotels and telcos have recognised the real use-value of conversation formats and simply added social channels to their existing customer service infrastructure. And it appears to be working.

The Fifth Type: An education.

Now it gets really interesting. And complex. This format works best when the brand has some information, some knowledge, that the audience may find useful. It really works when it becomes clear to the audience that this information is going to improve their life, or enjoyment of it, in some way.

education, brand, narrative, storytelling

Transmit knowledge and you’ll power up a deeper appreciation of your message.

The educational format does require some investment, attention, persistence and generosity (a ‘pay-it-forward’ attitude is a big help) on the part of the brand, but it doesn’t have to be a huge production. Digital is also consistently throwing up incredibly useful and user-friendly formats for education formats (Think: Lowe’s 6 second hardware tips on Vine). It is important to remember that you are placing a huge burden on the audience (Learning new things is hard work), so you need get the value exchange right. The audience has to believe the knowledge gained is worth more than the time and effort required to acquire it (Think: IBM’s NextGen CIO, an MBA-level shortcourse that helps IT Managers move from the server room to the boardroom).

Ironically, education formats can be as broadcast-y as you like, but take a tip from the people who do education for real: try to incorporate some sort of student feedback and scoring, to complete the transfer of learning.

Before I step off, I want to point out that none of these types of communication have been classified as content.

That’s because they are all content. This term was useful when we were emerging from the “advertising and PR” era, but social (in particular), has rendered the term meaningless, beyond a technical distinction between the delivery mechanism (the TV slot, the Facebook feed, the smartphone, the shopping mall aisle) and the thing that goes in those spaces (the ad, the post, the app, the scent). Beyond that, I think the term is now too broad to be truly useful.

Add a comment below if you’d like to join the conversation 😉

 

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

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While kickstarter projects and tech-hipster “maker faires” get all the press coverage in the West, China is quietly leapfrogging the hobbyist phase and developing a maker culture that’s a natural precursor chemical to the manufacturing industries that have been the engine of its stunning economic development over the last 30 years. Welcome to the world’s newest hotspot of maker culture: Hua Qiang Bei district in Shenzhen, the sprawling manufacturing city in China’s Special Economic Zone.

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maker, shenzhen, arduino

Imagine RadioShack the size of Wallmart, times 15 city blocks.

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University of California Irvine researcher Silvia Lindtner gave the SXSW crowd an eye-opening update on the state of Chinese maker culture recently in her talk “Made with China,” and the implications are profound. While ‘maker spaces’ are mushrooming in the west, the Chinese government is planning to virtually carpet bomb their cities with xin che jian (literally translates to “new factory”). The first of these spaces to appear in China was opened by a small group of tech entrepreneurs as an annex to their existing co-working space in late 2010. There are about 18 official makerspaces in China right now, but the city of Shanghai alone expects to open 100 more by the end of this year, including a bunch aimed specifically at schoolkids. Next-level is about to go next-gen.

Location, location, location.

It is in the Southern city of Shenzhen, however, where Lindtner sees the most powerful version of these new makerspaces emerging. Imagine setting up your space in a small, abandoned factory in the midst of a 15-block suburb crammed with multi-story electronic and mechanical component department stores. The real kicker is your next-door neighbour: the most concentrated, competitive and varied manufacturing area in the world.

In this situation, the DIY ethos of ‘maker spaces’ goes from tech tinkering to something completely different: a viable platform for rapid prototyping and affordable mass production, which then becomes an on-ramp for building sustainable product-based tech businesses. It doesn’t hurt to be in a tax-exempt Special Economic Zone and have one of the world’s busiest commercial ports just down the road, either.

Culture, culture, culture.

Maker culture is certainly starting to emerge in China, with the establishment of several incubator-style programs and spaces, boosted by the close involvement of MakerBot co-founder Zach Hoeken, who reportedly now spends half his time in Shenzhen. Former Foxxcon CEO Terry Cheng is also involved in the scene, and the government is funding a string of makerspace education facilities aimed specifically at kids.

China, innovation, maker, hacker

China + makerspaces + popup = boom

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Lindtner sees some interesting parallels to Chinese culture in this budding movement, including innovation born of necessity (almost every corner in every city sports an electronics repair shop) and also the often-maligned culture of Shanzhai, which has been described as either  “Robin Hood’s center for design” or a pit of shameless IP theft, depending on your point of view. More recently, the shanzhai manufacturers have started ‘open sourcing’ their own production methods, by readily sharing their ‘bill of materials'(the ingredients list of components and specifications for manufacturing hardware) and this approach has led to genuine innovation, such as Seed Studio’s reworking of the popular Arduino microcontroller board, now dubbed the “Seeduino‘.

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arduino, seed studios, shaizen, innovation

Better, faster, cheaper. What’s not to like about innovation?

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The real hurdle to developing a widespread maker culture of innovation and production, however, may be the Chinese attitude to manual labour. In an era when parents are eager to see their children in office jobs and white-collar professions, a return to the transistor radio repairman may be a tough sell.

Still, there’s a real velocity to what Lindtner is seeing on the ground. Shenzen hosts a recurring maker carnival, organized by China’s Communist Youth League, and 3 local kickstarter-style funding platforms have emerged in just the last year.

It seems the maker revolution is about to go into production.

A version of this story originally appeared on Ogilvydo.com as part of the agency’s coverage of SXSW 2014.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

Transmedia? Interactive storytelling? Multimedia narratives? Whatever you call it, whichever technology you use, you have to start with the fundamental ingredient: a great story.  If you want to be as successful at telling it, follow these rules from The Goggles, self-described ‘old media guys’ and Interactive Directors of multi-award winning interactive documentary “Welcome to Pine Point”:

Keep it Linear

Humans have been trained, for thousands of years, to follow a linear storyline, so help them to understand yours by sticking (largely) to the formula. While digital does allow for a completely unstructured and non-linear format (and it’s good for deliberately non-linear experiences like games), your audience might find it overwhelming. Take their hand, guide them. Pine Point really only allowed users to go forward, or back.

The Goggles took 2 years and about $500k to build their 'online documentary'

The Goggles took 2 years and about $500k to build their ‘online documentary’

 

Make it Layered

Humans are also complex and, when they like you (or your story), they will want to get involved, to spend some time. This is where digital really works, allowing you to create little piles of detail and texture, within a ‘chapter’ or segment of your largely linear story. Pine Point lets users shuffle through a pile of photographs of characters featured in a chapter.

Strive to Remain Human

The Goggles believe another problem with digital is that it encourages us to make things that are too perfect – perfectly flat, straight, round, photoshopped, aligned and cropped. Life, and the people who live it, are not perfect so leave room for imperfections, for ragged edges, in a digital storytelling experience. The aesthetics of Pine Point are very handmade

‘Chasing the Sun’, ‘Touch’ and ‘The Ghosts in Our Machine’ are some of the upcoming ‘new media storytelling’ projects from The Goggles.

A version of this story originally appeared on Ogilvydo.com as part of the agency’s coverage of SXSW 2014.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

 

 

Late last year, an American researcher used anonymised, aggregated data from multiple public sources to answer a question that had previously been only guessed at by traditional in-person or phone surveys: How many American men are gay?

For marketers what’s fascinating about this research is not that we finally know how many American men are gay (about 5%, it seems), but that the answer was made possible by marketing’s buzzingest new buzzword: Big Data.

Predictably, most of the media reaction to the research focused on the political implications of the findings (Here’s the headline: US states that are less tolerant of same-sex relationships don’t have fewer gay men, they just keep more of their gay men in the closet). However, the researcher Seth Stephens-Davidowitz revealed in a podcast interview with Dan Savage (warning NSFW) that he personally has little interest in the topic itself.

Multiple sources is the secret sauce.

In his role as a data scientist with Google and a NY Times columnist, Stephens-Davidowitz has been shining the ‘big data’ flashlight on some fairly provocative topics, but his interest is not in being provocative, per se. His work focuses on the potential of data analytics, fueled by the almost unlimited information generated by our use of the internet, to accurately answer questions we could previously only resolve with expensive surveys of limited scope and questionable accuracy.

Big Data, closet, gay, insight, truth, research, customer survey

Big Data can now measure closets accurately.

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Rather than relying on a single source of direct-survey information, Stephens-Davidowitz combined aggregate data from Facebook (relationship status), porn keyword searches (obvious enough), Craigslist (casual encounters listings), popular dating sites (profile and seeking data) and Google searches (including prevalence of the query “Is my husband gay?”). He then overlayed these sets with more traditional sources such as the US census and Gallup polls and found very strong correlations: a classic case study of combining multiple-source, multiple format data from unlikely vendors to learn something new and, perhaps, previously unknowable.

Let me tell you what I think you want to hear.

Survey data is notoriously unreliable, for a whole host of reasons. I’ve had B2B publishers confide that readers who claim they are responsible for major purchasing budgets, for example, rarely are. Junior staff talk up their roles to feel important, while more senior execs talk theirs down, knowing that publishers and advertisers are fishing for prospects and they can do without the spam. You can ask any advertising creative who has witnessed a ‘focus group’ in action to supply further examples of what people will say to earn a free sandwich and a turn on the microphone.

While prompted surveys are good for measuring intention, big data is increasingly being used to measure un-provoked behaviour. Which is otherwise known as ‘the truth’. As anyone who’s ever signed up for a gym membership can tell you, intention and behaviour are two entirely different animals.

9 out of 10 Marketers plan to use Big Data in their next campaign.*

It seems that while a lot of the marketing industry talk around “big data” is reveling in the technical wizardry of the tools and offering generic business double-speak about competitive advantages, the real story here is that big data, ultimately, knows the truth.

Big Data, marketing, research

Put your hand up if you like the idea of Big Data.

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It will, however, require creative minds to find and combine previously un-related data sets that reveal the truth about our preferences, purchases and behaviours. And this truth, in turn, will set creative marketers free – free to develop counter-intuitive strategies, pursue previously-dismissed niche markets and deliver provocative messages that resonate profoundly with an audience who knows, deep inside, that there is a brand who truly understands them.

* This statistic** is entirely made up, but can you imagine what would prompt a marketer to publicly admit they have no intention of using the latest marketing technology?

** 37% of all statistics are made up.

This post originally appeared on the Firebrand Talent blog.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

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Creative Berlin is also a privatized Berlin, where companies provide the necessary infrastructure in exchange for a chance to win euros and brand loyalty

What happens when hipsters become an economic strategy

If you have launched your product that is perfect, then perhaps you have launched it too late. 

100 things that I learned while building my startup by Vijayaragavan Venkatarathinam

“During the roof crush test, the crushing machine exploded at around 4 Gs of force before the roof failed”

Inside the Tesla Model S safety test

Don’t trust the survey, trust the clickstream: Netflix knows you have horrible taste – via Salon.com

The shadow of Twitter (and Foursquare) loom large over SXSW. These two apps found their first public breakthroughs at the festival (in 2007 and 2009 respectively), and are now on their way to world domination.

Everyone start-up wants to be known as “SouthBy’s breakout app” and the key seems to be encourage usage, rather than awareness – a tactic followed religiously by the makers of Hashable, a location-based personal networking service.

The makers of Hashable stayed home, choosing instead to send 20 ‘power users’ to Austin to “hash” as many people as they could in 5 days. They pretty much ended up networking the entire town.
A group of young Aussies also made the trek to SXSW this year to launch their mobile audio tour-guide app called iTourU, setting up a presence at the Trade Show with assistance from Austrade, but relying mainly on enthusiastic users, who created almost 50 custom tours of Austin on the platform in the first few days of the conference.

Other notable launches included LiveShare (private group photosharing), GroupME, (private group messaging), Acts Of Sharing (private group lending your DVDs and stuff) and Neer (location-aware reminders, that could probably be configured for private groups, if that’s what you’re into).

I spoke to lots of these people, and more, in the podcast interview “12 SXSW elevator pitches in 12 minutes”

Need to rewind? Catch the previous episode, where Ad Agencies learn “How not to pay for anything @ SXSW”

Stay tuned for the next episode when ad agencies learn “How to Throw A Party (Like You Mean Business)”

This video is part of the video blog series  “10 Things Agencies Can Learn From SXSW” presented by Barrie Seppings, Creative Director at Ogilvy Sydney.