By Emma Looby, Emily Ross & Marina Hui, Account Managers on Team Horizon at Ogilvy UK


A few weeks ago, we were lucky enough to head across the pond to Austin, Texas for the world-renowned SXSW festival. We were warned about two things before leaving: FOMO and information overload. From quantum computing to coral reefs, there was a heady spectrum of topics on offer. Determined not miss out, we ran around the block(s) of downtown Austin and absorbed as much as possible.

We’ve summarised our favourite talks and our takeaways from the festival as a whole. If you would like to read more, Omar Bakhshi gives a rundown of this year's key trends here.


Marina Hui, Account Manager on Team Horizon at Ogilvy UK

For me, the session on “Taking Mass Extinction Off the Seafood Menu” stood out.

The seafood industry as a whole has a real problem keeping track of where produce comes from, due to the intricate supply chain from ‘sea to plate’. This means that restaurants and supermarkets, despite best intentions, can’t always source sustainably caught produce. This means that consumers will also find it difficult to know if they are doing their bit for the environment when it comes to seafood. Monterey Bay aquarium have launched an app called ‘Seafood Watch’ that is a reliable guide to sustainable seafood. You can search individual species to see how environmentally friendly it is to be eating them, and if you’re in the US you can also find restaurant recommendations.

I learned a lot about the industry and it really hit home how every person’s eating habits affect the environment. For example, the demand for fresh fish from the counter means that this fish is often flown in from where it was caught, increasing the carbon footprint of the food hugely. However, if you eat frozen fish, there’s less pressure to get the fish there quickly and therefore it can get to its destination via boat.

Main takeaway: Download the Seafood Watch app – and eat sustainable seafood!


Emma Looby,  Account Manager on Team Horizon at Ogilvy UK

“Reality But Better: Augmenting the World with News” was my favourite talk at SXSW this year.

This was a panel discussion about how newspapers could engage their audiences with a strategic use of AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality).

I’ve not been able to stop thinking about some of the hypothetical and ethical questions the panel and audience raised. Far from even being personally engaged with using the technology myself, beyond the occasional Snapchat filter, the panel explained not only how this tech was being used effectively within their field but also explained some of the legal, logistical and moral challenges of VR/AR. 

For instance, what legal rights does an Avatar in a third-dimensional space have? What obligations do we have to act within this third dimensional space, say in the event that an Avatar is threatened or unsafe. The example the panel used was of a group of Avatars who met through an online game. One of the Avatars began to act strangely, looking as though it was glitching. In reality, that person was having a stroke, but there were no safety parameters or protocols in place to help locate that person or call for help. Another example was of a museum who fell into difficulty when a group of Pokémon Go gamers stormed the premises in search of a rare Pokémon, and in so doing disrupting the experiences of many who had paid to enjoy the exhibits.

Main takeaway: Across the whole week, the clear theme running through for me was this: the technological advancements that have been made over the last decade are amazing and have helped advance society in unprecedented ways, however we mustn’t neglect a careful consideration of how this technology can, and more importantly, should fit into society in a positive way. From the gig economy with apps such as Uber and TaskRabbit, to the world of virtual reality, to social media, we’re just running to catch up to understand what we’ve created and how we can integrate these technologies into modern society in a sustainable, constructive way.


Emily Ross, Account Manager on Team Horizon at Ogilvy UK

My favourite talk was “7 Non-Obvious Trends Changing the Future”.

The incredibly charismatic Rohbit Bhargava took us through the main discoveries of his 2018 Non-Obvious trends research.

Trend 1: Manipulated outrage

The truth has a media and marketing problem - few people believe it, or pay attention. Alongside this, consumers don’t face information overload- it’s noise overload. New tools in media and advertising make it easier for brands and organizations to manipulate consumer's emotions for their benefit. This raised the question of how (as both consumers and advertisers) can we expect that outrage but rise above it?

Trend 2: ungendered

Shifting definitions of traditional gender roles are leading some to reject the notion of gender completely, while others aim to eliminate it from products, experiences, and even their own identities.

Questions raised by this trend include: What is gender? How many gender classifications do we need? Neither of those questions has a definitive answer. Even the words we can use to describe gender today are expanding: non-binary, genderless, non-conforming, gender fluid, trans, asexual, and polygender are just a few.

As a result, we are seeing a shift toward a safer, more inclusive and “un-gendered” way of thinking that is affecting everything from entertainment and products to marketing, recruiting and workplace practices.

The takeaway from this trend - be careful how you target your audiences. By starting from a “male or female” target audience, you may have already limited yourself.

Trend 3: human mode

Thanks to automation, people crave experiences, advice, and services delivered by actual humans. This is, in many ways, the predictable antidote to automation. 

As we interact more with technology and robots for everything from making the perfect salad to vacuuming our floors, the interactions we have with real people may become more precious and sometimes, more desirable.

For several years, robo-advisors have been one of the most disruptive forces in finance. Since the 2008 financial crisis, trust in the financial services industry has remained low and, in this environment, robo-advisors offer an attractive, objective alternative to humans that may be tempted to act in their own interest instead of that of their client.

With this trend it's important to bear in mind that while bots (and emails!) are useful, nothing beats a real human

Trend 4: light speed learning

This trend referred to the road to mastery of any topic, which comes through bite-sized learning modules that make education faster and easier.

Trend 5: enlightened consumption

Empowered with more information about products and services than ever before, consumers are choosing to make a statement about their values and the world today through how they buy, work, consume, and invest.

As access to information about everything from nutrition to environmental impact to sustainability grows, consumers are thinking harder, and considering more factors, about what they buy.

What does this mean for marketers? In an age of transparency, marketers can’t just assume that a Brand Purpose will achieve this. It needs to be at the core of everything we do. We’re past the stage of ‘experiences not things’ - consumers are now looking for transformative travel. Things that change them.

Trend 6: disruptive distribution

Creators and makers find ways to cut out middlemen and build more direct connections with fans and buyers.

This means that your scripted paid promotion with ‘that influencer’ can be transparent, and ineffective. Give influencers license to talk to their audience in their own way for the best results.

Trends 7: lovable unperfection

Consumers value true authenticity and appreciate the minor imperfections found in products personalities and brands. An honest TOV- especially during a crisis - is worth is weight in gold.


Insightful, fascinating, and immediately applicable this was my favourite talk by far. Rohbit is both an incredible speaker, and the world’s most efficient researcher. Strongly caveating his own talk with “there’s no such thing as trend spotting, only trend curation” this was a down to earth talk that was a refreshing change from a lot of the self-congratulatory headliners. I’d thoroughly recommend his book.

Main takeaway: Every now and again, buy a magazine not targeted at you.


5 top tips for first timers at SXSW:

1 - Often the most interesting talks are those that you never thought you’d be interested in – take the opportunity to step outside of your knowledge comfort zone;

2 - Be prepared to walk up to 20 minutes between talks – so wear comfortable shoes;

3 - If you want to get into a busy keynote talk, attend the talk before. It will be less busy and they don’t clear the room after the preceding talk, meaning you don’t have to queue for ages beforehand;

4 - There are a lot of talks on offer – but often everyone wants to go to the same one so always have a plan b of a different talk to go to nearby;

5 - Check out the exhibition centres in-between talks – we met quite a few robots!


Read more on SXSW as Omar Bakhshi gives a rundown of this year's key trends here.