SXSW 2012 Interactive

Posted By Peter Corbett on March 14, 2012 07:53 am | Permalink
By Peter Corbett

AUSTIN, TX - SXSW 2012 offered up a bevy of new insights, as always, and in looking through my notes on the half-dozen panels I attended, I discovered there was a thread that was very enlightening and inspiring.  As we look to develop content for brands and products in all its various forms, the relevance of transmedia became much clearer to me.  

The most significant and influential for me was a great talk by David Womack, the CD of interactive design at R/GA.  Using a thoughtfully illustrated deck, he really articulated his thesis of how marketing a product has a narrative - a story arc.  That the age-old motto "keep it simple" can actually disrupt the process of creating compelling engagement, as emotional complexity leads to a more compelling narrative. One of the ways he illustrated this was through the simple fact that "I Love Lucy" had an average of five characters each episode.  Desperate Housewives? 18.  

Peter Corbett (left) with Noelle Nimrichter, Mateo Messina and Trevor King. 

The Top Chef Bravo presentation.  Great, well-illustrated case study on the use of transmedia to create a second narrative: "Last Chance Kitchen," which was hosted online. They defined transmedia as storytelling across multiple platforms. The Bravo presentation included Andy Cohen, the EVP and Top Chef Judge Tom Colicchio.  It was easy to see how, with imagination, the multiple channel narrative can create exciting and emotionally connecting engagements.

I also heard a presentation by Andrea Phillips, author of A Creator's Guide to Transmedia Storytelling who defined transmedia as either a story narrated over multiple media OR in a single medium where the story accumulates over time.  Andrea Phillips extended the transmedia opportunities to even include "media" like Google Calendar, Twitter narratives, live events  - any digital or sharable media that can progress the story.  

In fact, when I connect the transmedia presentations with Cohen's presentation, there is a clear takeaway that I found ultimately inspiring: I think we all feel that the opportunities for imaginative work are much greater - especially as we embrace complexity.  These three presentations laid out the beginnings of a roadmap.

Some of the other panels had simply terrific potential, given the all-star cast, but ultimately went nowhere.  Sometimes panels seem to have great catchy titles, "Viral is a Dirty Word", "Social Media is a Fad," etc. But the follow-through is disappointing: generalized questions from the moderator and zero visuals. This is a visual and highly interactive medium and the sessions need to reflect that.  The moderator + four panelists + the obligatory Q&A (mostly with no Twitter questions) is kind of lame.  Astonishingly, I didn't attend a single session that actually used Internet access as part of the presentation.

The Interactive section of SXSW has become an ad agency fest by-and-large. I would argue that more interesting perspectives are at events like Social Media week, Internet Week even Advertising week. They're much cheaper - even free-- and the panels are often better thought-out.  However - the parties at SXSW remain great and numerous!  Still the best part of the event if we're all being honest.

Peter Corbett is the founder of Click 3X ( in NYC.