Another SXSW is behind us, and the Interactive dust has finally begun to settle. What were the most buzzed about ad-industry-related topics and takeaways from this year? Find out in our top five recap:
1. Cross-reality (XR) is gaining speed: VR, AR, and infrastructure needs were some of the hot topics covered in our 2019 CES recap, and the momentum certainly hasn’t slowed as we move further into the year. XR, or various combinations of virtual reality and augmented reality experiences, provides people with more options to share virtual spaces together. One example, Vtime XR, is a virtual chat platform that lets VR headset users transport themselves to “exotic” locations while AR smartphone users can join in by using their screens to view a “360-degree diorama” of the experience. The goal with XR applications is to expand access for virtual experiences to as many potential participants as possible. Technology fragmentation, lack of infrastructure (i.e., 5G networks), and slow consumer adoption are all big concerns for the virtual space, and many are hoping creative XR fusions will help to drive the kind of mass necessary for wide-scale adoption and monetization. And it’s not just branding experiences that are generating excitement. This year’s SXSW convention floor had demos that demonstrated applications such as workforce training and education.
2. Are the machines already in charge? Whether reflecting on the attention-grabbing text generator developed by OpenAI, or on Sony’s language-inventing robot spies—there were definitely some creepy advancements in the computer intelligence space to unpack at this year’s conference. The ad industry certainly has a love/hate relationship with automation and AI, and some of this year’s news definitely won’t quell the paranoia, criticism, and hyperbole that’s bound to circulate around blogs in the coming months. So what’s the deal—is Skynet already in charge? Not quite, but change is certainly coming. In fact, recent AI developments have piqued enough interest that the U.S. government set up a regulatory task force last year, and public figures like Bill Gates and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez agree that “robot owners” should be taxed relative to the amount of human jobs they replace. And among ad industry pros, automation is continuing to generate a lot of conversation about how brands and agencies can capitalize on its benefits while retaining the human touch necessary to deliver nuanced and effective strategies. It’s a constant push and pull, and certainly a topic that will remain hot throughout this year—especially as the political season picks up.
3. Trust Busters: Privacy, trust, and data protections are intertwined with other topics on this list, but it’s an issue meaty enough to deserve its own callout. The best methods to encourage public education about the type of consumer data collected and how it’s used remains a hotly debated issue. Elizabeth Warren went so far as to announce at this year’s conference that she believes the big tech giants like Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google should be broken up—claiming that they’ve grown too powerful to be trustworthy stewards of consumer data, and that they negatively impact everything from housing costs to politics. While many in the ad and tech industries may scoff at these views, the reality remains that regulatory changes will be coming to the ad and tech industries in the near future. Whether it’s a full-on GDPR-esque approach, or something entirely different, it will be wise for brands and agencies to continue researching and revisiting their data management practices on a regular basis this year. So where to start? Look first at regulations being formed at the state level for a good indicator on which issues are achieving critical mass in the U.S.
4. Blockchain is still on the horizon: The discussions at this year’s SXSW distanced the technology from cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, and saw blockchain continue to become a much larger conversation unto itself. Most of the chatter was around applications much broader than those discussed for the advertising industry, such as supply chain management or game development. Still, blockchain has a strong use case in advertising, since establishing a more transparent and decentralized system for tracking ad transactions, delivery, and performance via the technology is an attractive concept for many. The Interactive Advertising Bureau goes in depth on these angles in their topic focus, which is a good primer for anyone still wrapping their head around the subject.
5. From tech to people: We’re putting this one last, because it’s part of an underlying thread that ties all of these topics together: How are the technologies and approaches we use as an industry impacting society as a whole? Sure, it’s exciting to tap into new advancements and capabilities to make marketing campaigns more personal and human-centric, but some of the broader story arcs discussed at this year’s conference move away from the tech that enables marketing to a new focus on the effects of that tech and our industry on people. In essence, some are continuing to encourage the ad industry to be more proactive about being good “corporate citizens,” and finding the right balance between self-regulation and advancement. We studied and wrote about some regulation and education efforts years ago when discussing the faults of the DAA’s AdChoices campaign. Now everything from data protection to healthy media habits are bubbling back up to the surface. Will the industry finally come together to take proactive steps that address its role in these issues before legislators force everyone’s hands? It’s hard to say if we’re finally at the tipping point, but we will stand by our role in this effort and encourage the industry to evolve responsibly.