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At SXSW this year, a prevailing theme across marketing sessions was the pronounced focus on culture media, managing hype cycles, and devising original content ideas. With a shift from demographic targeting to cultural, community and niche interest, along with creator content taking a leading role in campaigns, SXSW is undeniably at the cutting edge of delivering insightful perspectives.

Advertising in a World that is Obsessed with the New

In the flood of constantly emerging products, brands and technologies, it is a challenge to distinguish between genuinely innovative products worthy of their hype and fleeting trends with little substance. In this era of perpetual scrolling, consumers are always looking for the next new attraction. That behaviour can amplify hypes, sometimes excessively, when combined with strategic social media and influencer campaigns. For brands, taking advantage of this hype cycle can be beneficial as it allows for significant markups – at least while consumer interest persists.

In her session, Noor Naseer from Basis Technology offered a deep dive into how hype influences consumer behavior and brand strategy, differentiating between novelty and innovation. She introduced the term “tech lore” as a guiding principle for navigating advertising hypes with an optimal mix of exploration and skepticism. To avoid the pitfalls of overhyped and ephemeral trends, brands should concentrate on authentic innovation that addresses real human needs and offers tangible benefits. Success lies in delivering such value, ensuring that consumers remain loyal to your brand or even increase their engagement with it, confirming that true value is reflected in longevity. Naseer’s key strategies for navigating hypes include focusing on your unique challenges, deeply understanding your audience, aligning with your objectives, and avoiding fleeting trends.

The Art of Going Viral

Michael Krivicka from whoisthebaldguy, known for his role in renowned viral campaigns like the Telekinetic Coffee Shop and the Devil Baby Attack, presented a blueprint for creating viral content. He encouraged the prioritization of concept-driven ideas over traditional paid campaigns that rely on large media budgets or celebrity endorsements. The essence of viral videos? Avoid creating ads disguised as viral campaigns. Instead, produce genuinely captivating and entertaining content that people are eager to watch and share. Aim to interrupt the endless scroll by crafting something remarkable, whether it’s humorous, shocking, or thought-provoking.

This year’s SXSW highlighted the importance of content that resonates on a human level and actively engages the audience. Krivicka also emphasized the significance of originality, suggesting that even if you’re not the first, a unique approach can help you stand out and attract global attention. Both Krivicka and Naseer advocate for capturing consumer attention in innovative ways, whether by exploiting hype dynamics or creating viral content. In the rapidly evolving digital landscape, making a significant impact requires originality, innovation, and compelling storytelling.

Social is Dead, Long Live Culture Media

John Dempsey from Wieden+Kennedy and Krystel Watler from TikTok addressed the paramount marketing theme of 2024 – culture, community, and collaboration. Unlike the social age, culture media is not defined by who you follow, but by the interests you have, the content you interact with and the communities you are part of. And even though it is fluid and ever-changing, it is a great environment for creative advertising and media. But to succeed, you have to play by new rules.

Dempsey and Watler outlined six strategies for brands to engage with subcultures and expand their business:

  1. Commitment to cultural intelligence, which means really immersing yourself in the platform to understand it better
  2. Letting go of brand guidelines and accepting that you no longer have complete control over your brand
  3. Make room for co-creation
  4. Create content that prompts responses
  5. Create brand believers, not fans
  6. And last but not least: Entertain

First published in Horizont.