16 Mar 2015

All posts from 16 Mar 2015


Five Crazy Brand Promotions at SXSW 2015

SXSW doesn’t just take Austin over for ten days in March – it transforms Austin.

With Hootsuite bike-n-booze trollies all over town, shuttle buses wrapped in TV and movie posters, and normal restaurants temporarily re-branded into eateries like the “Fast Company Grill,” the city is a sudden cornucopia of hyper brand-awareness.

Naturally, it takes a special promotional effort to stand out amidst all the branded chaos. Here are our awards for the boldest promotions we’ve seen so far, ranging from completely effective, to utterly head-scratching.

Most Organic – Bates Motel

Head and shoulders above all the re-branded shops and restaurants in the area is the promotion for A&E’s series Bates Motel, an actual motel complete with ominously flickering “No Vacancy” sign. Actually a pop-up structure (constructed in a mere three days, according to Variety), Bates Motel offers fans the chance to explore everything from the main office to bloodstains in the rooms, as well as a contest to spend a night in the motel.

SXSW Bates Motel Fritz Kessler

A&E’s pop-up Bates Motel at SXSW: Image by Fritz Kessler

I’m not sure what would be worse – sleeping in a blood spattered room, or sleeping on the busiest street in Austin during SXSW. But, either way, Bates Motel has it covered, and does so in a way that’s both fun for fans and passers-by, and completely on-brand.

Most Ominous – Mr. Robot

Do you need a group of hackers in hoodies to wander mysteriously around SXSW and promote your brand? If so, Mr. Robot’s got you covered, with an act that’s part flash mob, part scavenger hunt, and all confounding (their website isn’t much help, either). They popped up in the food truck pod near the convention center and marched around in circles, tossing a lone business card on the ground. It contained instructions to take a selfie with the Mr. Robot fellas to reap further rewards.

Mr. Robot SXSW Fritz Kessler

The Mr. Robot Army: Image by Fritz Kessler

I did so, and was promptly tossed another card containing….a coupon for a local restaurant? There’s probably more to it than that, but when tons of brands at SXSW are practically begging to lavish you with free drinks, food, and swag, discovering the secrets of Mr. Robot required a patience I found I didn’t have.

Most Burdensome – The Game of Thrones Pedicab

With generic pedicabs flooding the streets of Austin, the idea of riding around town in the Iron Throne probably seems pretty cool, especially for the hardcore Game of Thrones fans waiting to get into the “South by South Westeros” exhibit in downtown Austin.

Pity the iron throne pedicab driver: Image by Fritz Kessler

Ben and the Iron Throne Pedicab: Image by Fritz Kessler

Pity, though, the pedicab driver who has to lug the throne around with you in it for a dozen blocks at a mere ten bucks a person. I spoke with Ben, a driver of one the iron pedicabs, who told me that it’s hugely challenging to pull such a non-aerodynamic vehicle up a hill and against the wind. When I asked how heavy the cab was, he laughingly and wearily replied “too heavy.”

So remember, be kind to your Iron Throne driver if you visit South by South Westeros this year, and toss ’em a few extra copper pennies.

Most Ludicrous – The GE BBQ Research Center

Because nothing says “barbeque” like “General Electric,” GE has a ranch-style installation on Driskill street that’s all about smoked, sauced meat. Credit GE, though, for throwing everything and the kitchen sink into this one: the BBQ Research Center is complete with dudes in white lab coats monitoring tins of pulled pork, classes on whether data science will affect the future of BBQ sauce, and even a giant BBQ “super smoker.”

GE BBQ Research Super Smoker Fritz Kessler

The GE BBQ Research Super Smoker, complete with dudes in lab coats: Image by Fritz Kessler

Even for an appliance-producing company like GE, it feels like they’re reaching here. Of course, the line to get in was also huge, so it’s possible I’m just bitter at not having tasted some of the super smoked BBQ myself. Looks like I’ll have to wait until next year to find out if GE can “bring good BBQ to life” or puts it to death.

Most Edible – The VISA Ice Cream Sandwich Wrapper

For those no longer content to merely see, hear, touch, and generally be subsumed by advertisements at SXSW, now you can consume them, too. VISA provided ice cream sandwich purveyor Coolhaus with edible wrappers that you eat along with the sandwich, thereby eliminating the age-old problem of getting a little bit of napkin in your mouth when you eat ice cream sandwiches, and/or cones.

VISA SXSW Fritz Kessler Edible Wrapper

The edible VISA wrapper from SXSW: Image by Fritz Kessler

Resembling some sort of rice paper with the VISA card image dyed in, the wrapper wins points for ingenuity, but loses significant points for blasé flavor and poor mouthfeel – plus, the food dye totally rubbed off on my hand. The chocolate chip cookie and brown-butter-bacon ice cream sandwich from Coolhaus, though? I’d pedal an Iron Throne around all of Austin for another one of those.

So, what were some of the most insane promotions you’ve seen at SXSW? Let us know in the comments, below.

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Five Crazy Brand Promotions at SXSW 2015

TEDxOregonStateU: “Why I drop the mic” by Hanson Hosein

When is the best time to Drop the Mic? Hanson Hosein shares his experience disrupting his own professional pursuits, and the lessons he learned along the way. Hosein is a content creator, educator, and business leader.

Hanson Hosein is a business leader, educator and content creator who has nurtured a startup mindset for over a decade. He recently co-founded Prosperity of the Commons International, a human development and technology company. He is the author of Storyteller Uprising: Trust & Persuasion in the Digital Age, and the director of two Independent America films, which have been broadcast internationally and stream on Netflix, Hulu, and iTunes. As Director of the Communication Leadership master’s program at the University of Washington since 2007, he leads powerful graduate learning experiences for professionals from around the planet.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx.


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TEDxOregonStateU: “Why I drop the mic” by Hanson Hosein

SXSW Interactive Day 3: Designing the New Smart City

Imagine a city with lightning fast, free public Wi-Fi on every street corner and no pay phones. In this city, you can make phone calls, access city services, charge your devices and even vote by using artfully designed, sleek connection points with a touchscreen tablet interface. Because it’s a smart city, it will adapt to your needs, informing you when there’s a traffic accident in your neighborhood and even adjusting bus routes automatically in response. Hungry? If you choose to broadcast that information through your mobile phone, restaurants nearby can respond by broadcasting their specials.

LinkNYC: Paving the Way for Smart Cities and Advertising

Dave Etherington at SXSW 2015

Dave Etherington, Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Offer of Titan, speaking at SXSW (Image: Connie Rock)

What’s the best thing about this city? It’s not a pipe dream. With the LinkNYC project, key elements of this city are being designed now. The project was the key focus at a fascinating South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive panel discussion on Sunday.

During the discussion, Colin O’Donnell, Dave Etherington and Jeff Henckels, all of whom are involved with LinkNYC, outlined the project’s vision. Billed as the “fastest and largest free municipal Wi-Fi deployment in the world” (up to gigabit speeds), LinkNYC is intended to be much more than that. According to O’Donnell, it’s also the first of its kind data-driven advertising network. “We want content (ads, emergency messaging, community art) to be programmed by the people who are proximate to it. We also want to open up the business opportunity [to advertisers] to understand who’s around you, so you can dynamically change the advertising,” O’Donnell says.

Revenue from digital advertising, which will be targeted based on the aggregate demographics of the areas where the connection points are installed, will fund the project. In turn, the project is expected to generate anywhere from $500 million to $700 million for the city of New York over a period of 12 years (LinkNYC’s media kit mentions $500 million, Etherington mentioned $700 million during the panel discussion).

New Experiences and Designs: Beyond Ads Pushed to Phones

Before this experience can be monetized, however, the industry must determine what is going to be considered valuable from the user standpoint. “We really have to grow up as an advertising and startup industry and not default to the laziest experience, which is to push an ad to your phone,” Etherington says.

Although they didn’t provide too many specifics on what that might mean for LinkNYC experience, all three panelists were enthusiastic about the value that smart cities can provide. As an example, through apps that enable visually impaired individuals to explore their cities, smart cities can be made to be more accessible to its residents. The data generated by sensors and other technologies can help city planners and others improve cities’ services and operational efficiency. Sensors in large buildings could monitor the temperature in each unit, quickly detect whether there is an issue such as a malfunctioning boiler, and the information could then be communicated to technicians—all without the paperwork and other administrative overhead that often comes with such maintenance and repairs.

Design-wise, the possibilities are ripe for forward thinking, elegant industrial designs for smart cities. Masamichi Udagawa, who with Sigi Moeslinger designed the award-winning Help Point Intercom for New York City subway stations, is one designer who is already well versed in this space. The intercoms enable subway customers to contact agents at an emergency dispatch center and each is equipped with a built-in video camera.

 Geeking Out on LTE Direct

Given the tech-savvy audience for the panel discussion and the fact that LTE Direct, a key emerging technology, will be used for LinkNYC, a major portion of the discussion was technical. LTE Direct is a device-to-device standard that will allow smartphones to communicate directly with other smartphones and beacons up to a 500-meter range, no cell towers needed. Think of it as next-gen Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), with much better range and scalability. While BLE takes minutes to discover hundreds and thousands of devices within range, LTE Direct, which should be generally available in mid-2016, can accomplish the same task in milliseconds, according to Henckels, Director of Strategy and Business Development at Qualcomm.

Colin O'Donnell speaking at SXSW

Colin O’Donnell, Founding Partner and Chief Operating Officer of Control Group, speaking at SXSW (Image: Connie Rock)

Also, while BLE uses private languages, LTE Direct uses a public language—in addition to private languages. With the ability to use public languages, LTE Direct provides new contextual capabilities. Beacons can emit public signals that can be indexed and made available to search engines. As a result, next-generation search will have a much better sense of context.

One disadvantage of LTE Direct is that it uses licensed spectrum, a barrier to entry and cost that BLE beacons don’t have. And as with any wireless technology, privacy is also a concern. When asked about how privacy was being addressed in the LinkNYC project, O’Donnell stated that the project team has worked closely with the administration of mayor Bill de Blasio to ensure maximum privacy—a critical step, because as O’Donnell says, “If you’ve lost user trust, you’ve lost everything.”

Proximity Technology: Making Smart Cities More Human-Friendly

New York City residents will be able to start roadtesting LinkNYC later this year. Production will start this summer, with the first few connection points to be installed in September. By the end of the year, a projected 200 connection points will be in place.

The ultimate goal behind projects such as LinkNYC and smart cities generally is to put technology in the service of human endeavors. As Henckels states, “Proximity is the next generation of Internet solutions. It’s not just about the city. It’s about all of you.” It’s about enabling experiences that let users keep their phones in their pocket rather than forcing users to stare at their phones. Or as O’Donnell puts it, “We have a beautiful world and we should appreciate it. Maybe with more context we can appreciate it more.”

To update the old saying, perhaps it’s proximity–not absence–that makes the heart grow fonder.

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SXSW Interactive Day 3: Designing the New Smart City