The SXSW message for tech start-ups: if you want to be big then find yourself a brand partner

Everything is bigger in Texas. So the bumper stickers on the cars here tell me, anyway.

So it’s apt that SXSW takes place in Austin, the capital of the lone star state.

One of the world’s biggest tech conferences, it’s home to massive amounts of geekery, innovation and, yes, big parties too.

SXSW3And when you come to SXSW, you can also expect big talk. You know what I mean – those headline-grabbing comments that make us all sit up and join the debate.

So what were the big headlines from the first full day at SXSW? First, let’s talk about health and tech. This topic is so well covered this year that it has its own content strand at the Festival. And the quote that filled the airwaves today was something that could be seen as optimistic, pessimistic, or just downright terrifying:

“If you just manage to live for another 25 years, there’s a chance that you might never die.”

Just let that sink in for a minute. There’s little more I can add.

The next big quote of the day was something that all of those working in our industry is likely to embrace. Uttered in the ‘Combinatorial Creativity’ session, it was affirmed that: “if you’re trying to do something big and creative, the first thing you should do is go to a brand.”

This may not sound like anything revolutionary to those working in marketing, but try telling that to a start-up crowd who have come to Austin with the ideal of making it big without ‘selling out to the man’. “People want to do cool stuff. Brands want to do cool stuff,” it was said. “So swallow some pride and start collaborating. Embrace the fact that brands are starting to put creativity first.”

It’s certainly worked for Red Bull, whose focus on providing thrills and spills has meant “people don’t mind paying a premium for an energy drink, because they know part of that money is going to them paying for an entertainment service.”

But here’s the final bold quote of the day. The Red Bull Felix Baumgartner campaign – the one that saw him jump from space, was covered by every media outlet going and has won every creative award that it’s possible to win – was complete and utter bollocks.

That’s according to celebrity astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson anyway. The ‘man who demoted Pluto’ (cool job title, eh?) was the guest keynote speaker on Saturday, and in an energetic talk in which he righted a whole bunch of scientific wrongs, Tyson took Red Bull to task on whether we can really define what Baumgarnter did as ‘jumping from space.’

“If you’re jumping from the edge of space, you don’t see the curvature of the earth,” Tyson said. “If you’re really jumping from the edge of space, you’re far, far further up.” OK, so what Baumgartner did was still thrilling, it was still bravery at its finest, but ‘jumping from the edge of space’ is stretching it a bit.

Does it matter? Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s big talk. And that’s what SXSW is really all about.

unnamed-4Matt Williams is content editor of Engine and a former Close-Up editor of Campaign.

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