SXSW 2018: Unexpected Collisions

Posted by Max Divak from Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide — North America on April 13, 2018

I was in Austin, TX, looking down at a sad product info flier handed to me on the SXSW exhibit hall floor. I begin to imagine the failed potential of raw material... what kind of tree could have been? Was it an Amazon shipping box? I considered the amount of energy spent to produce what ended up a failed attempt to inform me of a service. Sustainability is drilled into every one of us every day from a young age. I can’t help but feel this negative energy melting into my impression of that small company who was probably told by an agency that this was the best solution to inform their audience of their services.


We live in a time when we’re never without a screen of some sort in a pocket. Most of us are addicted to the screen and can’t go more than a few minutes without glancing at data it reveals or connections it enables. The user experience on these devices has become muscle memory for many. On my flight back from Austin, while reading an issue of Wired magazine, more than once I involuntarily pinch-zoomed images on its beautifully printed pages, laughing at myself.


It is our responsibility to offer up excellent interactive experience to our clients. And not a print layout on a screen—that’s just going through the motions and failing. Like mobile-first for the web... we need to think digital-first for every copy blurb, every creation that leaves our walls. People learn through action. Deep connection with a product is made when emotion is evoked while learning about it. Disney World is great not because the rides are better than Great Adventure but because each one is wrapped in a compelling background story that is experienced while waiting on long lines. We need to tell our clients’ stories using tools that evoke emotion and many levels.


At SXSW this year, Sony took up shop in a space located next to the convention center to demo its latest R&D in AI, robotics, audio processing, projection technology and electronic components. While walking through their exhibit of digital demos you get the impression they fully understand deep connection through interaction. Instead of closed solo experiences inside VR headsets, many of the demos were physical, asking for each participant to engage with mixed reality projections and motion-detected objects.


One demo showed off their super-high-frame-rate image sensor. It’s capable of capturing a blazingly fast 1,000 fps with onboard processing. It’s a breakthrough for the automation and manufacturing industry. Sony showed this off in the context of its three-player A(i)R Hockey game. Each player controlled with a haptic feedback-enabled paddle. The game starts off with a physical puck. The overhead image sensor detects every move of the puck and paddles with enough framerate to run an algorithm that predicts where the puck will travel at any given time. Projections on the game surface and puck make the game exponentially more intense as its players bash away. In addition to the physical puck, virtual pucks begin to appear as players’ scores go up. I experienced first-hand the feel of the haptic feedback in conjunction with the pucks. It was impossible to decipher virtual puck from real puck. This is only possible with that 1,000-fps image sensor. 

Another interactive demo called Light Up the Beat showed off Sony’s short throw projectors, sound processing and image sensor components.  A participant stood at each corner of a table where they were assigned a color. A stark white 3D printed piano, drum set, stand-up bass and saxophone were placed on the table in front of each of the four players. Detection took a second but in almost real-time, 3D projection mapping projected full color textures onto each instrument. Fast jazz began to play as colored bubbles began flowing outward from the center of the table towards each instrument. Each player was instructed to point with their finger towards each instrument when their color bubbles flowed towards that instrument. It was as if a colored flood light protruded from your fingertip towards the instruments, and doing so accurately caused it to play along. The more precise you were at directing your spotlight, the more musical that instrument sounded. As the song played on, each instrument became more sporadic and it was more of a challenge to keep up.

Bringing it back full circle, Sony could have handed out product brochures or a catalog to inform potential customers of their latest discoveries. Instead Sony inspired the SXSW attendees with experiences and possibilities. Granted, this was all possible due to Sony’s deep pockets, but with a little imagination and time this magic can be applied to any brand and product at some level.


It’s these unexpected collisions where a brand is able to touch customers on an emotional level that leave lasting impressions long after the glitz, glitter, BBQ and tacos are gone.