Glimpses of the Future

Posted March 31, 2016, under Gee Whillickers!

The powerhouse festival/conference series that is South by Southwest recently concluded, and the news coming out of Austin has been fascinating on many levels, especially from an advertising standpoint.

What is SXSW?

According to their website: “The South by Southwest® (SXSW®) Conferences & Festivals offer the unique convergence of original music, independent films, and emerging technologies. Fostering creative and professional growth alike, SXSW® is the premier destination for discovery.”

It’s become a huge deal in its 29 years of existence, with many notable performers, special guests, and speakers, including Space X CEO Elon Musk, Bruce Springsteen, Mike Tyson, Lady Gaga, Neil Gaiman, and in 2016, the President of the United States.

Also Grumpy Cat, hailed by CNN, CBS, and CNET as 2013’s biggest star. No joke. (Image Source)

Okay That’s All Great, But What About Advertising?

Glad you asked.

As reported by many tech/advertising-oriented media outlets, including Ars Technica, The Verge, and AdWeek, the “emerging technologies” part of the festival had a definite focus on new ways corporations could engage their customer base – which you may recognize as “advertising.”

Virtual Reality

Back in the ’90s, we were assured that Virtual Reality (VR) was imminent, and we were but a few technological baby steps from The Matrix.

Or possibly Lawnmower Man.

Those baby steps took a little longer than Hollywood expected (surprise!), but fast forward to 2016 and consumers will see VR headsets from at least three companies hit the market this year. It remains to be seen whether the gadgets will catch on, but advertisers are already looking for ways to capitalize on the technology.

Which brings us to, of all companies, McDonald’s.

McDonald’s/Groove Jones

With the object of painting your own Happy Meal box, this does qualify as a game, of sorts, on the HTC Vive VR rig. But an immersive game whose sole purpose is to bring players into McDonald’s world and get their greasy burger groove on.

As VR becomes a viable platform, we’re guaranteed to see increasing emphasis on this sort of advertising. Representatives from Hasbro, The North Face, and Lufthansa German Airlines also weighed in on the platform at a SXSW panel, and fortunately their comments leaned toward crafting experiences that consumers would actually enjoy. For example, The North Face has already developed VR jaunts to Yosemite and Mount Everest.


Aside from USA Network bringing in a 100-foot Ferris wheel as part of their Mr. Robot promotion, robots were on the shortlist of buzziest topics to come out of the festival. Which, when we think about it, also brings us closer to The Matrix.

Many robotic products are on the verge of hitting the market, including “Jibo,” a robot assistant reminiscent of Iron Man’s J.A.R.V.I.S. – but how about an android that directly interacts with shoppers?

AdWeek/Getty Images

Creator Hiroshi Ishiguro (pictured) says Japanese men hesitate to talk to human salespeople, as this signals the desire to actually make a purchase. But they had no such qualms about asking an android about products they might be interested in. This opens up interesting possibilities in how advertising and marketing can be executed. Android spokescritters, anyone? …Anyone?

We’re already seeing something similar in the existing artificial assistants, like Siri or the Amazon Echo, a voice-controlled device using a virtual assistant answering to “Alexa.” As reported by AdWeek, Quaker Oats has created an app for the device that answers a demand for overnight oats recipes, which is apparently a thing that exists. This is as much a marketing stunt as it is a service. The Quaker Oats CEO made a point of saying this was about “brand and demand.” But let it sink in: Quaker Oats made a cutting-edge app that encourages people to buy their product.

The Future of Advertising is Interactive

There are plenty of other examples, from Suicide Squad tattoos to the aforementioned Ferris wheel, but the clear through line is that finding ways to use technology to directly engage with customers is going to be very prominent in the future of advertising. As computers get smaller and smarter, as tools for monitoring market activity grow more powerful and specific, advertisers will be able to connect with people on an unprecedented personal level.

Whether this is a good or bad thing remains to be seen.

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