A Guide to Maneuvering SXSW 2019’s OOH Panels

With focus on how they overlap between people, cities and brands

A bird's eye view of what could possibly be New York City
SXSW is putting more of an emphasis on digital OOH panels.
Ryccio/Getty Images

One of my favorite things to do this time of year is to check out all of the upcoming talks and panels at SXSW. This year more than ever, it provides a refreshing mental aperitif and reminds me that the world is full of passionate, interesting and committed people who have devoted their lives to subject matters that many of us know nothing about. I’m particularly excited about the sessions that bring a new perspective to advertising.

I have a special interest in trends, ideas and technology that could play a role in out-of-home (OOH) and place-based media. As physical media begins to play a more active role in cities and people’s lives, going beyond static advertisements to dynamic and useful experiences, so too will it play a more active role in the content of talks at events like SXSW.

OOH’s impact on campaign outcomes and consumer behavior has traditionally been a little wooly. With the availability of mobile data and increased OOH activations from DSPs, we are seeing and learning the true contributions that OOH can make across the entire marketing funnel. With this in mind, the SXSW 2019 panels “A Psychologist and an Ad Guy Walk Into a Campaign” (March 9), “Advertising Detox: How to Reduce Cognitive Load” (March 9) and “An Anthropological Approach to Reaching Customers” (March 11) are three sessions focusing on the relationship between human behavior and brands. It would be a lost opportunity if they don’t include OOH in the conversation. People spend 70 percent of their waking hours out of the home, so OOH media is very much a part of the human experience.

Tangentially related to the topic of OOH, “The Death of the Clickable Ad” (March 14) will discuss how experiential advertising can fill the click gap and encourage consumers to feel the world around them. We’re seeing a lot more of this in OOH as brands use technology to respond to the physical environment at scale and in real-time. Apple for instance, is currently undertaking a photography competition, the prize for which is to have people’s photos featured on billboards where real experiences are the message.

“Media and Entertainment for Autonomous Vehicles” (March 8) will touch on developing business models for this emerging channel. I’d like to see OOH incorporated into the discussion, as panelists may envisage potential interoperability between digital billboards and in-car media. Assuming some of the in-vehicle media will be ad supported, even the idea of who may own this media from both the buy and sell sides is fascinating as we consider how rapidly digital OOH is evolving and conjoining with mobile.

“Reimagining the Cinema Experience” (March 9), which may discuss the profound impact of advertising in cinemas. Instead of polite requests to “please silence your phone” before a movie starts, mobile devices could become active parts of the viewing experience with advances in augmented reality enabling content, including advertising, to live beyond the screen. Programmatic advances in cinema advertising might also usher in more targeted and dynamic advertising triggered by audience composition, time of day and location.

The topic of cities and urban innovation continues to get butts on seats at SXSW, so much so that the conference created a new track to focus on Cities, Government and Politics. “Unleashing Cities’ Collective Superpower” (March 10), “Flying Taxis and Ambulance Drones: SciFi 2 Reality” (March 14) and “Survival of the Fittest: Mobility in Cities” (March 9) are SXSW sessions that will consider ways to solve global urban challenges. I’d like to see these talks touch upon the importance of public-private partnerships to solve challenges that often require a lot of money and upgraded infrastructure. It will be interesting to learn how the mayors and city planners participating on these panels imagine brands participating and helping fund solutions to these urban challenges.

As the ad industry begins to shine a spotlight on digital OOH, so too will conferences begin to talk about the changing medium and its impact on society. SXSW Interactive promises to bring many important topics to the table, and I’m excited to see how they shape up in the context of cities, people and brands.

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