Top 5 Learnings From SXSW 2024

Here are our top 5 learnings from the year of AI in Austin, as the SXSW 2024 organisers waved goodbye to swarms of marketing agencies, brands and speakers for another year. 

For context, South by Southwest (SXSW) is an advertising, tech, film, music, education, and culture conference that annually takes over the Texas town of Austin. Keynote talks this year featured the likes of NASA, OpenAI and even Megan Markle (Prince Harry in tow), plus lots of branded experiential activations… 

1. How to host a SXSW Meet Up

This year, we had the chance to present a Community Management Meet Up, after a rigorous audition process that included video entries and voting! It was honestly like something out of the X Factor, but totally worth it for a free platinum pass.

I had the pleasure of launching our new CAOS white paper, speaking to a room of people all networking with each other around the subject of online communities and advocacy. I would recommend it to anyone thinking of applying in the future.

2. SXSW talks offer lots of industry knowledge

You could tell a lot about our industry from the schedule. There were over 100 hours of AI talks and if you had AI in the title of your presentation you were almost guaranteed to fill all of the seats. We also noticed about 60% of the small businesses showcasing their products were AI / VR or blockchain based products. 

These were our favourite talks in terms of knowledge download…

1. AI & Productivity: A Workplace Love Story?

Talk Description
Paige Bailey (Google DeepMind) and Yetunde Dada (QuantumBlack, AI by McKingsey) examined how generative AI tools can streamline tasks, spark creativity, and even offer a sense of ‘partnership’ that blurs the lines between human and machine.

Key Takeaways
Generative AI is a branch of Deep learning that uses exceptionally large neutral nets called Large Language Models (with 100s of billions of neurons) to learn abstract patterns. It then applies these language models to interpret and create text, images, video and data.

Here’s a live demo of this in action, with Google Gemini. Paige used an obscure screenshot of a mobile phone screen from the film Her, to test if the tool can identify the film…

2023 was the year of Gen AI:

  • $80B OpenAI’s estimated valuation up from $29B in January 
  • 400% increase in global VC investment into gen AI vs. 2022 
  • 13 gen AI startups valued at $1B+
  • 2 months for ChatGPT to reach 100M+ users 
  • Hallucinate – named word of the year by the Cambridge Dictionary (watch the video below for more context here)

2. Introducing Gen Alpha: A Brand’s New Key Audience 

Talk Description
In this session, Joanna Piacenza (Morning Consult) introduced us, via 60 slides of data, to Generation Alpha (born 2010-2024), their tendencies and behaviours, and how the youngest generation is poised to transform the world as we know it.

Key Takeaways
Alpha’s online habits are being formed now, here are some statistics about for the next gen coming through:

  • 49% of Alpha own a tablet and 1 in 5 own a VR headset.
  • 24% spend at least 7 hours on their smartphone a day
  • 60% of Alphas use YouTube, citing storytime and review videos as their favourite content
  • Their top 5 influencers feature: Mr Beast, Blue Ivy, Jake Paul, North West and Tyler Blevins
  • 10% met most of their friends online
  • 29% of Alpha parents have talked about household finances with their children (they’re being raised by financially fraught millennials )
  • 63% of Alpha parents say they’ve booked a trip because their child would enjoy the destination (early parental involvement in decision making means Alphas will have strong brand opinions

3. GO VIRAL OR DIE! How to create viral marketing hits

Talk Description
Fanboy moment right here, we got to sit in a packed auditorium and listen to Michael Krivicka (whoisthebaldguy), the mastermind behind some of the greatest viral video stunts of all time, including Telekinetic Coffee Shop, Devil Baby, The Shaving Helmet (his first ever video), Sausage Party Promo and Don’t Look Up, plus many more.

This session was all about tactics for going viral, based on his past experiences. 

Key Takeaways
This was without doubt the most insightful presentation we attended in terms of tactics, so here are a few knowledge nuggets to adhere to in future campaigns if you want to go viral with video:

  • Think backwards from media headlines, what do you want BBC news to say about you?
  • Make whatever product you’re selling more fun e.g. Michael made playing golf more fun
  • Your idea should be really easy to explain to a friend in a bar – “A golf cart hovercraft”
  • Secure a domain for your idea a soon as possible
  • The idea doesn’t come from the product, it comes from what you do with the product
  • Be original, most agencies try to make the world’s smallest or biggest, you should be trying to make the world’s first, and if you can’t be original with the idea, be original with the execution

3. SXSW is a great place to network

We challenged ourselves to talk to 100 people in 4 days, but we stopped counting after 48 hours because you speak to people constantly. Everyone walks around the city wearing orange and silver SXSW lanyards, so it’s really easy to use the commonality of the festival as an ice breaker. 

We met people from São Paulo, Sweden, Austria, the UK, all over the USA, we sat next to some huge brands like Chanel, and we even met some ‘Digital Nomads’ who were travelling the world and working remotely in the creative and legal industries.

4. There’s so much to do in Austin

There’s something to do around every corner in Austin if you want a break from sitting in talks. 

For example, we stumbled upon the eMLS Cup Final, being held at the Moody Theatre, the iconic home of Austin City Limits. It was incredibly insightful to see a live e-sports event for the first time, with commentators and live coverage included!  

We also stumbled upon the Paramount + Lodge on Rainey St, it’s basically a huge experiential house full of Paramount + TV, film and gaming activations.

5. Austin is the home of BBQ

For food, there’s one place you MUST try and that’s Terry Black’s BBQ. 

All of the people that attended the Meet Up said this was the best BBQ restaurant in Austin. They were even kind enough to let us behind the scenes to see their gigantic smokers.

Well, that’s a wrap for SXSW 2024. If you’re thinking of attending, speaking or you just want to know more about the event then please send me a DM on LinkedIn

To get into the AI spirit we converted audio recordings from key SXSW talks into notes for this blog, using

You can download the CAOS white paper we presented at our Meet Up, for free, here.