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High Tech Reminders of the Fundamentals at SXSW

March 16, 2011

[Guest post by Paul Fix, senior copywriter at JWT]

The interactive portion of SXSW is behind us, and with it the guilt associated with sleeping past 8 in the morning (the guilt associated with not staying out past 2 still lingers, and promises to grow throughout the music festival).

As I try to make sense of the cascade of 4 days of information and keep the lid on my excitement about prospects for the future, I keep coming back to one truth I found interwoven throughout all the seminars, movies and events:

At the end of the day, it’s about human connection and connectivity, and the core fundamentals of communication have not changed.


Whether you’re writing a coupon ad, scripting a :30 second TV spot, creating augmented reality documentaries or leveraging mobile check-in platforms for an international bot-avatar game, you need to appeal to humans.

It sounds simple. And that’s because it is. But in a world of overwhelming advances in technology and ever-increasing CPU speed, it’s easy to forget the fundamentals: advertising and marketing are here to communicate with people. Just slapping your name on the latest post-Twitter, post-Foursquare, post-Whatever-Is-Already-Old-News-By-The-Time-You-Read-This Technology doesn’t make you a better or smarter or more likeable advertiser if there is no reason for being and no personality to the way you use that form of media.

In some of the highest-tech seminars, here are some fundamentals I heard repeated that David Ogilvy or Bill Bernbach could have easily stated 60 years ago.

Advertise Where Your Customers Are

You wouldn’t place an ad for Mad Dog 20/20 in the New Yorker (I actually don’t know where you would place an ad for Mad Dog 20/20). So think about media placement before development. If your target is young, create something on mobile that they can carry around with them and actually use. But if your audience is 55 year-old men who watch TV, you don’t necessarily need to create even so much as a Facebook page.

Have a conversation with your audience rather than talk generally to everyone.

Every brand needs to imagine they have just walked into a party. What do you do when you get to a party? Do you make a speech to the entire ensemble about how interesting and likeable you are? No. You talk to the people who already like you and have such a deep or funny or interesting or dynamic conversation that the entire party wants to join. Social media allows us to interact with your fans in real-time. So get to the party. But if you choose to act like a yutz when you get there, don’t expect to be invited to other parties.

You are an invited guest; so act like one.

One speaker made an analogy of the difference between tipping big in a restaurant and tipping big at a friend’s dinner party. The former would be deemed generous; the second would be deemed rude. When a user chooses to interact with you in social media, they are looking to befriend a brand that they admire or like. So with that in mind, don’t be the friend who is always, like, “It’s a great day for a friend like you to buy something from me.” Instead, bring something to the conversation like a friend would.

Eat Your Own Dog Food

Believe in what you’re creating. If it’s not something you’d interact with (if you were in the target) or use, don’t create it.

There are opportunities at every turn.

A mobile game creator spoke of designing for failure. He waxed on about how his group turned an error message into a part of the game. They just figured, hey, people’s devices aren’t going to connect all the time. So why not create for it? The result is a richer experience that keeps you immersed at every turn.

Have a great client.

This last one will be as true today as it will be in ten thousand years. Even if we are advertising to the robots then. And from what I heard over the last few days, we probably will be.

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