SXSW: Key takeaways from this year’s edition.

SXSW 2024, or South by Southwest, is behind us. Since 1987, Austin, Texas, has been a magnet for people from the worlds of technology, film, music, advertising, education, and culture. The festival, whose mission is to support creatives in achieving their goals, is the absolute biggest celebration of creativity in the world. This year, over 8 days, the calendar was filled with 450 events, organized into 24 thematic tracks, dedicated to topics such as artificial intelligence, advertising, the creator economy, the future of work, civil society, climate change and energy transformation, or health and MedTech.

After just the first day, I knew that even with a well-planned calendar, I had no chance of getting everywhere, because turbo-interesting events were simply happening at the same time. The organizers encourage turning FOMO (fear of missing out) into JOMO (joy of missing out). And that was my South-by. Join me for a compilation of the most interesting events and topics, but also my personal impressions and reflections that SXSW lives by in the corridors.



Collisions of worlds.


At the opening on the main stage, we saw Lori Glaze – the director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division in conversation with Ada Limón – an award-winning American poet. The backdrop for the conversation was the Europa Clipper mission – aimed at conducting research on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. The probe will carry a plaque with a poem specially created for this occasion.

However, the essence of the conversation was about the creative meeting of two worlds, art and science, engineering and poetry, and the power that such cooperation unleashes. This conversation fittingly opened the conference, as this is also the concept of SXSW as a whole.


Women in leading roles.


Also, not coincidentally, right from the start, we saw two strong women on stage. Some may say that the conference was dominated by AI this year. I believe that SXSW 2024 was dominated by women. And it’s not just about Meghan Markle in a panel on breaking barriers. In the following days, in the most important events of the day, in the absolute conference prime time of South by Southwest, we saw incredible female speakers. Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau from MIT presented the report “10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2024”. Lisa Su spoke with disarming honesty about her career path to becoming the CEO of AMD. Tekedra Mawakana, co-CEO of Waymo, presented the concept and progress in testing autonomous taxis. Finally, Amy Webb from the Future Today Institute presented the visionary 2024 Emerging Tech Trend Report. And there were many more such examples.


Incidentally, when presenting challenges related to AI, Amy Webb turned to generative AI and examples of different applications responding to prompts about CEOs, invariably presenting a white man in a suit. But more on AI challenges in a moment…


Meanwhile, SXSW not only talks but also does a fantastic job by giving the stage to female speakers, to the benefit of the program.


AI won’t take your job, but those who use AI are already doing it.


Artificial intelligence was deconstructed into its components from every possible perspective at the conference. We were reminded of its history, saw the cross-sectional status of today, and learned about more or less probable scenarios for the coming years.

We were accompanied by the conviction that AI is the most transformative phenomenon we have faced in the last 15 years, since the advent of social media. It is also compared here to the steam engine, which initiated the industrial revolution, and even to the invention of the wheel, as the basis for the European conquest of the Americas…

AI will change everything – the way we work, live, and even flirt, and it will touch absolutely all industries. In a fantastic presentation, Ian Beacraft considered what will happen when we stop interacting with AI for separate tasks and it becomes ubiquitous in our work. The concept of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) appeared more frequently. And we will reach this reality faster than was the case with the digital revolution. At the current pace of development, 5 years bring progress that previously took 100 years. Companies using AI can also deliver value on an exponential scale. But for this to be possible, work organization, team structures, and accompanying processes must be created anew.

Beacraft emphasized that AI automates processes, not creativity. He introduced the term Creative Generalist, as a profession of the future, where broad interests combined with the ability to work with AI lead to super-efficient creation of innovative ideas and implementation of solutions. And this is a good basis for the exponential growth of business value.

Artificial intelligence was present in every conference track. AI as a solution that increases productivity. AI as a solution that gives creatives time for creation. AI as a solution supporting the city in delivering public services. AI in medical diagnostics…

In MIT’s 10 trends, artificial intelligence also took the top spot. Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau also analyzed in detail the negative consequences, among them bias, i.e., prejudices embedded in our culture – reinforced and strengthened by algorithms. We are already aware of this, but the fight against the phenomenon will be long and difficult. Creator’s rights and generative AI – a series of lawsuits awaits, but there are also tools that allow protecting works from ‘AI-copying’. Fake news – it will get worse before it gets better, but we already have the first attempts to mark AI creations. Finally, the energy consumption of solutions and gigantic climate costs.

Closing SXSW 2024, Hugh Forrest reminded us that 15 years ago, the conference was dominated by social media, and then we witnessed a great transformation full of positive events, but also negative social phenomena. Therefore, seeing the threats AI brings today, we cannot make the same mistakes.


A deadly toll in advertising.


In my personal calendar, the Advertising & Brand Experience track, sponsored this year by L’Oreal Group, could not be missed. And here, there were plenty of events heralding the end of an era. The sales funnel, followers, and even social media were declared dead.



The end of the funnel was proclaimed by Mark Dicristina from Mailchimp, Courtney Miller from Edelman, and Gina Igwe from DoorDash. The main message – the relationship often starts where the funnel ends. And the funnel poorly describes the entire brand-consumer interaction. Especially in “saturated” categories (and there are plenty of those) it is increasingly difficult to acquire new customers, and everywhere there, it makes sense to focus on the relationship, understanding, engagement, and finally retention and loyalty of each customer.

Additionally, we have more and more cases where only after the purchase does the consumer look for information, deepen research, and sometimes… rationalize their purchases. A good example would be live shopping and spontaneous purchase decisions.

By the way, DoorDash after the advertisement of all advertisements during this year’s Super Bowl, was here frequently mentioned. The food ordering app stood out in the commercial block by declaring readiness to deliver products of all other brands that presented themselves during the world’s biggest commercial break. And additional all could be won. The campaign was accompanied by a lot of activity on social media, which could indicate that these are doing well, but…

The panel titled “Social Media is Dead, Long Live Culture Media” was led by John Dempsey from W+K and Krystle Watler from TikTok. It was a very well-told reflection on how social media is changing, maybe “due to”, at least “with a large contribution” from TikTok. Key words are culture, co-creation, and communities.

Culture was defined as a collection of beliefs, artifacts, rituals, and language. We can find plenty of such collections in each of the communities present on social media. These communities will be all the niches you find under hashtags #mumtok #techtok #cleantok #booktok #farmtok etc. Each with its own language, beliefs – often very sharpened, artifacts – memes, and rituals – often hermetic. Importantly – these niches are not as ‘niche’ as the name would suggest, and going further – such niches may better describe our brand’s target group than the most advanced segmentation.

A set of very practical tips on how to use culture media in our communication activities boils down to a few truths. The starting point will be simply maximum immersion in the culture created by the community, so as to simply get to know it well. A fantastic moment was when John Dempsey asked how many creative directors we have in the room – hands shot up, and then he added – who of you is on TikTok and hands began to fall. The original comment – You need to be there at least 30 minutes a day. This is Your job!

Once we know the community well, the next steps should bring the value that the brand can bring to the community. Good, rooted in culture and language entertainment will always be valuable.


And finally, co-creation, as the most intimate and engaging dimension of the brand-consumer relationship. Handing over the brand to the community means losing control, but if we have done our homework well and the collaboration is authentic, it creates value.


The advertising track was full of topics, practical tips, examples of good practices. About new platforms and their ideas for entering the game. About communities on Discord. About the development of Patreon. About the potential of Youtube Shorts vs. TikTok. About streaming platforms. About cooperation between brands-agencies-creators. About the role of ‘captions’ in all video materials, etc.


And what about states.


Their accompanying events at SXSW are organized by all sponsors, but also by countries. Among the most interesting was the São Paulo Experience. It’s no coincidence – Brazilians made up a very large group of participants. We also managed to visit the Irish House, where over a glass of Guinness, you could hear about designing U2’s first performance in The Sphere in Las Vegas.


Austin SXSW


In conclusion, a word about Austin. The unofficial motto “Keep Austin weird” is visible at every turn. The musical and film part of the festival attracts a very talented and equally colorful crowd. A concert in the middle of an intersection straight from the roof of a car, dancing with a snake in the middle of the city’s main street, absurd comedy performances, but also autonomous courier deliveries… The gravitational force operates more broadly. Here live, among others present at SXSW, Michael Dell and Lisa Su. Austin is becoming an alternative to Silicon Valley, the official and unofficial headquarters of big business and the most interesting startups…


Keep austin weird SXSW


SXSW 2024 is behind us. The event returns next year. If you were wondering whether it’s worth it – it definitely is!


The above article was initially published in Polish. Read original story on

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