Takeaways from SXSW Interactive 2011: Winners, Losers, and a Remainder


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thinking of them as a relic of an era when Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan were cute. This is something of a shame, since their portfolio now includes some interesting projects like Seed and Phoenix that might actually demonstrate a newfound capacity to innovate. On the other hand, few attendees were convinced that AOL’s current strategy of “buy popular blogs, try not to ruin them” will turn out to be anything substantive.

I do not envy the job of HP’s marketing agency, Porter Novelli. They had a tough assignment. Getting people excited about a company whose website is a decade behind the times is difficult, especially when the hot new product they bring to the table for a SXSW marketing push is e-printing. Not the new tablet debuting this summer, or their unlocked GSM Palm smartphone, but a service that is essentially a cloud version of network printing.

Still, the folks at PN put together a pretty respectable, and expensive, experiential marketing play with their HP Mobile Park, replete with retro trailers, astroturf and free booze. Not enough to put them on the winner side of the tally, however, especially when one also considers that HP bought space as a loading screen for the SXSWGO mobile app, but designed the screen so poorly that few understood who or what it was advertising.

The Remainder:

It’s difficult to say whether SCVNGR should chalk up SXSW 2011 as a win. On one hand, CEO Seth Priebatsch’s keynote speech was widely acclaimed, though not quite as much as Jane McGonigal’s talk. On the other hand, the flagship SCVNGR mobile app saw little traction amongst the attendees. Perhaps this doesn’t really matter to SCVNGR as much as their new daily deal app LevelUp.

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Ryan W. Cohen is an MBA candidate and graduate fellow at Babson College, where he studies information markets and digital strategy. Follow @

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  • Hi Ryan. Nice inside view. Most of us were not at SXSW. Here is my view as an outsider . . .

    SXSW Interactive Awards | 2011‏

    I welcome your perspective on the buzz around “The Wilderness Downtown” and “Collapsus.”

  • Priya

    You make all of us at Babson very proud. Go Ryan!

  • @Gene Thank you. Unfortunately, I’m afraid I don’t have much insight into the music or film side of SXSW. A shame, I know, but this was my first time at the festival so I was focused on trying to absorb as much as I could from the Interactive conference. Maybe I’ll widen my scope a little in 2012.

    @Priya Thanks!

  • Great insight and thoughts on SWSX!!!


  • Allen

    Ryan, is there a clean tech presence at all at SXSW? Or is it more geared to the Wired/tech nerd crowd?

  • @Ryan. Interesting. What I presented were the award winners from the Interactive conference. So, apparently the SXSW Interactive Awards Ceremony on Tuesday, March 15 was not a part of the Interactive conference.


    Interesting, indeed.

  • @Zaarly Thank you.

    @Allen There wasn’t much of a clean tech presence. It’s very much focused on the software side, and there were only a handful of “green” companies on the trade show floor.