Best of the week: SXSW in the rearview mirror

Digiday is at SXSW giving you the latest industry news out of the festival at Austin, Texas. More from the series →

Another year, another South by Southwest has come and gone. Thanks to the East Coast storm, our correspondents spent more time tweeting angrily at their airlines than they did on the ground in Austin. But we were able to get some interesting insights out of them nonetheless.

Brands pulled back on SXSW
Yuyu Chen had a nice differentiated piece which pointed out that, big as it is, SXSW Interactive is not a draw on the scale it once was: Brands are pulling back. Capital One had a smaller footprint, consolidating multiple events into one. Spotify, Fader Fort, Hype Hotel all had smaller offerings. And agencies like Huge are sending fewer people. The hype around SXSW has begun to wane as other events like Social Media Week have also stepped up their game, said Donna Tuths, global head of digital content for Accenture Interactive, who decided not to attend this year. “The bubble has now burst,” she said. “In the past, corporations spent lots of money on SXSW but when they looked at the bottom line they didn’t see return on investment.”

Are these the worst people at South by Southwest?
Of course, it’s not as though no one went. As a piece of handy service journalism, SXSW newbie Bethany Biron had a keen eye for the worst people at the conference. She helped us revive an old franchise wherein we lovingly chronicle all the … interesting … folks you meet in Austin.

Here are a few to give you a taste:

The Moocher
For some, SXSW is an inspiring glimpse of the future. For others, it’s a good excuse to cadge some free drinks and appetizers. This person, many times a member of the reporter class, not only knows how to sneak into all the parties with open bars, but can weasel their way into film premieres and private gatherings. While they have no plan to open their wallet, they likely shelled out the $10 on the SXSW Free Shit Guide back in February.

The Vape Enthusiast
This isn’t Denver, so pot isn’t legal here (technically), but vapes are. One moment you’re walking down the street, minding your own business, the next you’re suddenly enveloped in a cloud faintly reminiscent of, what is that, tangerines? It’s not just you: It does smell like a Paul Simon concert. By the time you escape the first billow, you’re eclipsed by another. Might as well not fight it.

The Guy Who Didn’t Get His FT Weekend

And here’s one that didn’t make the list: The Overly Invested SXSW Influencer

The anatomy of an advertising fraudster
One of the “worst people” you almost certainly will find at SXSW is the agency fraud. Talk to anyone in the industry long enough and they’ll tell you about creative director who spends all day on Reddit, the strategist who speaks at conferences non-stop, and the creative chief who spends all his time judging awards in far-flung locations. That’s not even mentioning the “professional cool kids,” who seem to spend most of their time perusing Fader and attending SXSW.

“It represents an industry in crisis,” said five-year R/GA vet and current freelance creative director Andrew Payton. “And as the business continues to devolve faster, it’s turning us all into fools.”

All industries have their fair share of poseurs, but advertising is somewhat unique in that, by all accounts, it has a surplus of them. Our managing editor Shareen Pathak breaks down the taxonomy of this unique species.

Brands drop it like it’s bot
Shareen also had a nice look at how brands are cooling on bots. Last week Facebook said it was “refocusing” its use of AI after its bots hit a failure rate of 70 percent, meaning bots could only get to 30 percent of requests without some sort of human intervention.

Many brands Shareen talked to said that bots simply didn’t live up to their promise. Fashion retailer Everlane, which was one of the first Facebook Messenger partners, announced last week it would no longer use it, saying they would rather stick with email. For another conversational commerce pioneer, Spring, customers have found that the bot, based on Facebook Messenger, is hard to use and doesn’t have the level of personalization people expect.

“I would call it overpromising,” said CP+B executive creative tech director Joe Corr. “Brands that created bots with a structured request or utility like Domino’s or in retail were easy. But bots that tried to break out of the utility and be chatbots became the problem.”

I want my Snapchat TV
Snap wants Snapchat Discover to be more like TV, reports Sahil Patel, and longtime media partners, as always, will be expected to adapt.

Snap plans to prioritize the placement of original shows made for Snapchat Discover, according to two sources. Since its January 2015 launch, Snapchat Discover has been a home for daily magazine editions from dozens of media partners including ESPN, Cosmopolitan, BuzzFeed and Vice. But with Snap’s latest obsession being in the TV and the entertainment business, the company wants to place a spotlight on individual shows made for Snapchat Discover.

“Snapchat wants to be TV and entertainment,” said one media executive. “And they want stuff that people want to watch so they can place a lot more ads inside Discover.”

Fifty Shades of Snapchat 
And speaking of Snapchat: After going full circle on Facebook and YouTube, 360-degree videos have arrived on Snapchat, but as more of a hack than a feature offered by the platform. Sony Pictures was the first to direct Snapchat users to a 360-degree video back in August 2016, reports Tanya Dua. Now, a number of brands including Netflix and Chick-fil-A have run 360-degree virtual experiences on Snapchat recently. Netflix, for instance, launched a 360-degree trailer for its first reality show Ultimate Beastmaster, and promoted it through Snapchat ads last month.

“360-degree videos are not yet a native Snapchat function, so they’ve got the novelty factor,” said Nick Cicero, founder and CEO of content shop Delmondo. “And they are very promising because swiping up is very powerful, as it signals intent. Users are watching the videos because they want to.”

Here’s a 360-degree tour of a masquerade ball featured in a scene in the Universal movie “Fifty Shades Darker,” which first showed up on Snapchat:
Virtual Reality Advertising & 360 Video VR Player

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