A retrospective view on SXSW

A retrospective view on SXSW


Working in the industry for over 15 years, Adam Emmott, Havas Lynx EU’s Interactive Director, has been involved in producing award winning eDetails, games in health and mobile tools. Adam now travels the world facilitating and assisting in driving digital best practice within Pharma marketing.

As Interactive Director, I often find myself having to explain my role, (“Yes, it’s different to a static director…”). Over the years it’s come to mean if there is anything that needs producing that is perceivably ‘Interactive’ then it’s probably going to have my involvement somewhere!

When I’m not producing things I also get to fly to various parts of the globe working with teams in delivering best practice and facilitating brand story clinics.

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be given the chance to visit the world’s largest conference of ideas and technology, SXSW in Austin Texas. An event where industry leaders, tech gurus and enthusiastic prosumersget the chance to stand side by side and explore what the future holds for the world of technology, entertainment and media.

Upon my return, I was only back in the UK for two days before flying out to Shanghai (A luxury really, my colleague who I attended SXSW with flew directly to his next meeting).

This has meant that my findings from SXSW had to wait until I got back in the UK, but my time since returning has given me chance to capture and make sense of the entire event. Here are some of my take-aways from SXSW…


A lighter touch for seriousness
Virgin Atlantic flight

Ok, so, not strictly SXSW at all, but I had already started to look for narrative and ideas on the flight over to Atlanta. I wanted to just point out some amazing work by the company Art & Graft.

The animated story of a passenger who is nonplussed with the idea of sitting through another safety announcement (I know the feeling) drifts off in to a vivid dream. As the hero of his dream he is taken on a journey through the exciting film lineup offered on board while being told about the safety information. Through car chases and spy thrillers he is introduced to the same “put your mask on first…” messages we are all used to, but using commonly recognised film references.

Beautifully crafted, genuinely funny and utterly engaging, it demonstrates that even something with a serious message can be delivered in a less than serious way. It was the first time I have ever sat through the entirety of one of these things, demonstrating that with a compelling story, even something serious can be delivered with humour and be just as (if not more) effective.


Compelling zeros and ones
How a sports giant is now tackling your health
Kevin Planck, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Under Armour

“Data is the new oil…”

Under Armor has been at the forefront of data tracking with its ‘Record System’ pioneering the way athletes track their fitness. After last year’s acquisition of MyfitnesspalMapmyfitness and Endomondo, Kevin Planck discussed his commitment to data and its ability to create better products for improving the achievements of athletes across the globe. Working with HTC, Under Armour set out to achieve what no other sports company had done by making all of their apps and wearables speak to each other. From Harmon Kardon Bluetooth HR tracking headphones, to a glass weigh scale, the Record System can uniformly monitor and capture every aspect of training for an athlete, giving a more complete result of improvements.

“The ability to take data—to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualize it, to communicate it—that’s going to be a hugely important skill in the next decades.”
Dr. Hal R.Varian, Google’s Chief Economist

In marketing terms we’ve always been able to tell a great story for our clients brands, bringing study data to life for different customer profiles. Now with all this collected informed data, as an agency we need to help pharma to facilitate a better conversation between HCP’s and Patients, turning zeros and ones into positive, honest outcomes.

LinkedIn reports suggest that the role of the Data Analyst is “one of the hottest skill categories in the last two years.”*


Playing collaboratively
LEGO group and Cartoon Network: Building future fans
Jill Wilfert – VP Global Licensing & Ent LEGO Company, Michael Moynihan – VP Marketing LEGO, Michael Ouweleen – CMO Cartoon Network, Tramm Wigzell VP – Cartoon Action Adventure Cartoon Network

As is often the case at ‘South by’ I ended up jumping into this session as my second choice in a packed 12:30pm agenda slot. After the fantastic #LXAcademy session given at our Manchester offices by Christian Majgaard last year, my interest in the Lego story has been re-ignited, and I have always had a love of the irreverence of Cartoon Network (one of my most watched channels when I travel, I kid you not!) this seemed liked an interesting option.

After the near collapse of Lego over a decade ago, the company realised that they had been too insular and needed to embrace the emerging trends that were happening around them. They saw that they needed to become more stakeholder focused, while protecting their core principle:- “to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow”.

Lego sought partnerships that shared in their values and also believed that “children are our role models”.

By teaming up with a children’s channel renowned for their unique animation style and a clear understanding of what kids wanted in their stories, they formed a partnership that became symbiotic in creating award winning output for both companies. Firstly with smash hit Ninjago, which was already a popular lego brand, and then collaboratively developing the series and toy line ‘Mixels’ (which went on to pick up a prize in the pocket money category of the London Toy Fair 2014). By combining expertise, both companies managed to create something that was not only financially beneficial, but was also born out of a shared belief in the core values of both companies.

So what does collaboration mean for pharma? Those collaborative methodologies combining technical expertise and insight have been at the heart of a pharma marketing plan for decades. Science must marry with story in order to make the compelling and provable case for treatment. We must challenge the conventions of a therapy area and show we have a tangible treatment that will change and improve lives. Today we have to connect to a broader range of services with consumer and technology companies who are leading the way in terms of connectivity to the self. There will undoubtedly be a time when this convergence between healthcare and pharma must happen if we are to achieve the best possible outcomes.


The truth techniques
The checkbox that ruined my life!
Dennis Ellis – UX strategist and FCB & Katie Swindler – UX Director FCB

In this session we were introduced to the concept of manipulative UX, demonstrating that ‘bad design’ is not necessarily just sloppy or lazy, it can also have a manipulative purpose.

As part of their opening Katie and Dennis defined how bad UX manifested itself:-

I wear dark colours when I go to the casino so that people cannot see when I wet myself

This rather shocking quote was taken from a casino gambler who had well and truly been sucked in by the way that modern day gambling machines are designed to keep players playing. (They are so effective that casinos actually have to replace their carpets 4 or 5 times a year!)

www.darkpatterns.org is a website dedicated to exposing online examples of manipulative design principles whose purpose is to drive out the use of ‘evil’ user experience.

In one example, the website livenation.com (April 2015) employed the technique described as a ‘Roach Motel’ (‘…very easy for a user to get into a certain situation, but then makes it hard for them to get out of it when they realise it is undesirable’.) After reaching the checkout on the site, not only would the user have bought what they expected to, but, if they failed to read the tiny privacy statement in the footer, they would have potentially missed the ‘opt out’ checkbox to decline a recurring subscription to Rolling Stone Magazine.

Today, any company can be called out and shamed via social media about its bad practices, there is an absolute need for transparency and honesty in every user experience we create. The average millennial has been exposed to this kind of reporting and platform for justice since their interactions online began. Put simply, there is nowhere to hide if you try to screw your customers.


Defining your own story
The eyes of robots and murderers
A conversation with JJ Abrams and Andrew Jarecki

As a big ticket event, this required a little bit of time camping out to get into, but it was well worth the effort!

Abrams described how the use of technology sometimes hinders the creative process. When it came to working on a project like ‘Star Wars – The Force awakens’ he stated that there was always going to be an element of CG but he wanted to use as many ‘analogue’ techniques as he could. CG was employed to hide the puppet rigs and puppeteers and helped to maintain as much ‘humanity’ in their performers as possible.

This made me think about how we’re often approached to deliver ‘innovation’ to improve user experience. Unfortunately, within pharma marketing, digital is often viewed as somewhat of a panacea for poor design, or flimsy strategy.
The current tech zeitgeist is often requested at a briefing without any consideration for story. What JJ Abrams was saying is that the performance of a story should be enhanced with the use of technology, not used to hide the lack of substance (something that any Star Wars fan will agree with after the universally acknowledged shambles that was Jar Jar Binks!)

Andrew Jarecki is the Writer and Director of the acclaimed HBO mini-series ‘The Jinx’. In the series, he shadowed the heir to a $4billion property empire, Robert Durst. Durst is implicated in the killing and disappearance of 3 people, but has never been convicted. (If you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend watching the series, it is brilliant and addictive TV…I challenge you not to be utterly blown away by the last 5 minutes of the series!)

When the conversation turned to that of the iPhone, Abrams viewed it as a ‘nightmare’ for storytelling, however, Jarecki was more positive about the platform, stating that it was amazing to have the means to create, edit and publish video right in your pocket. He then introduced us to an app he has helped to develop, ‘Knowme’. With Knowme, Jarecki has tried to make the process of storytelling even easier and more accessible. By narrating over video clips, photos and music, the app edits a story together with a few simple actions and creates something that looks semi professional and easily sharable online.

Apps like Knowme have started to offer a real alternative to desktop applications. With the increasing processing power available in our pockets, ‘professional’ looking content is available to everyone. With the quality of content continually being pushed further, perhaps the next generation of film makers will come from Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram…



Did I see the future at SXSW? Yes, but not necessarily from a technology standpoint. I think what was demonstrated, was the fact that ‘future’ technology is already here and more accessible for everyoneWe can immerse, explore and understand more than ever before, what we now need to do is understand how to get the best out of these new channels, become braver at expression and re-connect to how we tell our stories in the most honest, informed, and (sometimes) humorous ways available.