A bit of waffle: Travel-ish news from SXSWNewsBy Nick Vivion | March 19, 2013Share This article was originally published on There was quite a bit of travel-related news happening in and around the mass chaos otherwise known as the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, USA. Beyond travel, there are all kinds of themes and happenings signaling the continued evolution of the tech, creative and content businesses.Convergence continuesThe festival is focused on Interactive, Film, and Music - and the reality is that convergence is really the name of the game these days. Everyone is talking about everything, all media types are co-mingling, and nothing is sacred anymore. Fast Company has dubbed this 'bringing together' as Generation Flux - and it's more than just one generation, it's the entire business world at the moment.The overlap between the three discrete conferences at SXSW is becoming more prevalent, with the lines constantly blurred: Deadmau5 and Richie Hawtin talk about the future of electronic music in a Music panel and then head over to Stubbs BBQ to close the Interactive portion of the festival. Brands of all stripes sponsor music showcases with significant video portions; food trucks are solid parts of brand activations across the spectrum; it's all one big mashup of all things branded.This is the Sink-or-Swim Circus, and you had better be a good juggler/swimmer!Adapt or dieThe idea of a breakout app coming from SXSW seems to be diminishing. After Foursquare's success a few years back, the speculation before each conference has reached a fever pitch. But as TechCrunch points out, there have been a series of shifts in recent years that have made it much more difficult - and also less desirable - to have a big breakout success at SXSW.Companies must continue to evolve; what worked last year may not work this year. The idea of simply copying previous years' promotions is simply not going to work, and with the increased profile of the conference comes increased noise. This mirrors the wider business landscape, where it's much harder to gain traction in the digital world as barriers to entry have pretty much hit rock bottom.Startups are also still oh-so-sexy, and with that vibe comes many dabblers - the scene has become the Scene. Vapid, senseless sponsorships, promotions and activations are just not going to cut it.Creativity and panache are the not-so-secret ingredients that lead to success in this world, and the ability to adapt to always-changing market conditions continues to be one of the most important requirements to remain competitive and relevant in today's marketplace.All that being said...American Airlines vs WanderuThere were not many activations that truly caused a stir - walking around SXSW is essentially like walking in a giant aisle of big brands, or as some have likened it to, opening a web browser and being bombarded with flashing, screaming pop-up ads."Authenticity" is a word that many like to bandy about, but this particular writer believes authenticity, like happiness, is subjective. One person's authentic is not another's, and so it's a baseless comparison. Rather, we should be thinking in terms of impact and quality of engagement - did this activation do anything to follow through on the brand's promise? Did it provide wonder and create a tangible memory for the person?On one end of the activation spectrum, we have Wanderu (TLabs here). The intercity bus/rail site brought a real-life version of their mascot name Miki to Austin, and wandered around town snapping photos. The photos ended up on their Facebook page, extending the value of the guerrilla monkey marketing campaign as people tagged and shared their photos.Low-cost and impactful, this was a very clever way to create buzz everywhere they walked. Countless conversations were held in the streets and venues around Austin, and the positive interactions with Miki made for some positive connections with this new company.On the other end, we have American Airlines.The "new American" spent a plane-load of cash on their "official airline of SXSW" sponsorship activation. A large section of the ground floor common area at the Convention Center was dedicated to their kiosks, with giant screens and lots of shiny bits.There was also the Oasis on 6th, a large tent set up to promote: Take a break and enjoy a free massage, while relaxing you can charge your devices in the complimentary charging stations. Once the devices are all juiced back up, take advantage of the free Wi-Fi to stay connected. Speaking of juice, refresh yourself with fresh juice from a local Austin juice bar while you print your latest #SXSW photos at an interactive photo booth. The Oasis on 6th is a rare spot of #newAmerican hospitality right where it's needed most.Share this quote The idea of hospitality, comfort and recharging in a relaxing environment amidst chaos is actually quite good - it reflects the travel experience for many. And the brand received some solid social media uplift for the activation:But will it be memorable? Will it stick with the festival goer so much that it determines what website they go to when they need to book a flight?The same goes of other brands. Take a look at the Facebook mentions - what's the ROI on these and did they result in any top-of-mind sales?Graphics courtesy Expion.Absent actual statistics - and we know that no one's talking at American Airlines or SXSW Corporate - it's hard to imagine how much these sorts of "branded experiences," from Oreo's free pedicab rides to Doritos' giant stage, can actually be linked to sales.And just as the Captain Crunch street team piled out of the Hilton Garden Inn elevator, bags of single-serve cereals overflowing, it became clear that SXSW has become a "must-do" event for brands - and has dropped off that very same list for a growing segment of influencers.Travel winners and new playersThe SXSW Accelerator saw several travel startups competing, and a couple of them managed to break out as winners.Among the Grand Prize winners, personal mapping startup Plotter won the Social Technologies category and the aforementioned Wanderu topped the Innovative Web Technologies category. There still seems to be plenty of interest in the travel space,There were several new-to-us startups pounding the pavement - and soon-to-be TLabs inductees.We met the co-founders of AnyRoad, an international tours and activities marketplace seeking to connect travelers to locals by also empowering the analog-only tour guides to become more digitally savvy.Plotter, mentioned above, rethinks how we use maps to communicate and create lists by making maps shareable and social.TravelShark is taking a different tack to online reviews by curating the "Essence" of a place. Rather than relying on a starred review process that gives unknown weight to individual reviews via a proprietary algorithm, commonly used words are put into a word map to identify common themes.There were also a series of potential startups that came out of American Airlines and AT&T overnight hackathon - none of these have catalyzed yet, but it was fascinating to see the headspace of current developers.Death to social; long live analog.If I see another "Be Social Lounge" or "Come and Be Social!" banner, I will scream. Seriously!!!Marketers: please stop urging the world to "be social" in every freakin' context possible. I'm at a conference, I'm being social simply by being here. A lounge is social already - it's redundant to call it a "social lounge." I may be a jaded journalist making the rounds of the same-old-things all the time, but what if marketers just focused all that energy - and capital - on creating curated, inherently social experiences that actually bring people together in an effective and meaningful way? The social interactions will take care of themselves!Beyond social, it was the analog world that dominated many conversations and themes at this years conference. 3D printing was everywhere, Maker culture provided plenty of narratives surrounding creating physical products, and the idea that the sexiest startups are now working to create physical products was not lost on many attendees.The winner in the Entertainment and Technologies category at the Accelerator was MakieLab, which will customize toys and dolls - and open an entire new element of DIY making for gaming and entertainment brands.Everything is cyclical, and hardware is making a resurgence over software - and creating an entirely new way to make money for what were once pure digital plays.Were you at SXSW? What in particular stood out for you this year?NB: Austin image courtesy Shutterstock.