SXSW 2024 In Review

SXSW, short for South by Southwest, is an annual week-long event in Austin, Texas featuring sessions from countless industry professionals, film premiers, a creative expo, brand activations, comedy shows, music festivals, and more. Since it began in 1987 it has grown into one of the largest and most influential gatherings in the world for professionals from various industries.

Apart from it’s music festival, SXSW is especially renowned for its conference component, which covers a wide range of topics that include advertising, technology, film, music, and culture, featuring keynote speakers, panels, workshops, mentor meetings, and networking events.

Each year, Temerlin Advertising Institute sends a group of undergraduate and graduate students to Austin as part of a Special Topics class during the beginning of SMU Spring Break. The students are able to attend lectures on advertising trends, emerging technologies, and many of their other interests while also interacting with specific brands through their activations and experiencing first-hand how they use experiential marketing.

Get a quick glimpse at a day in the life at SXSW by checking out this video by TAI undergrads Samantha Brewster and Ava Ingram:

Some Top Sessions:

Although there were so many amazing sessions that it was hard to just choose a few, below are some of my favorite sessions from SXSW:

Beyond the Buzz: Navigating Hype Cycles in Advertising:

Led by Noor Naseer, the VP of Media Innovations and Technology at Basis Technologies, this session focused on understanding and effectively managing the lifecycle of trends within the advertising industry. The core idea revolves around the “hype cycle,” a concept that describes the typical progression of a new technology or trend, from its initial overenthusiasm through a period of disillusionment, and eventually to a more sustainable level of productivity and impact.

Consumers scroll 300ft per day which adds us to almost 21 miles a year. They are always looking for something new and novel. This includes places, people, products/services, ideas, etc. A lot of brand hype is often focused around a brand founder, more than the product itself because they serve as a “hype man.” People love a good story. But the most important part is timing. If you are too early with a product or service, you lose time and money, if you are late, others will grasp the lions share of the benefit.

The goal of this session was to help advertisers decern fleeting trends from those with long-term potential, emphasizing the importance of data-driven decision-making in this process. Some tangible ways to do this include using market signals, analyzing consumer behavior, and using tech and AI to predict which trends will stick. Additionally, Noor  discussed the impact of hype cycles on marketing strategies, budget allocation, and the broader implications for brand positioning and consumer engagement.

Building Brands in the Unhappiness Era:

This session was a panel discussion with executives form Spanx, Olipop, and DailyPay where they discussed creating joy and building measurable increases in people’s wellbeing. It tackled the challenges and strategies for brand building in times marked by widespread consumer unhappiness and distrust. This era is characterized by economic uncertainties, political turmoil, social injustices, and environmental crises, which have collectively led to a decline in consumer optimism and trust in institutions, including brands.

The session explores how brands can navigate this complex landscape by adopting more empathetic, transparent, and value-driven communication strategies rather than continuing the negative narrative. It emphasizes the importance of understanding the root causes of consumer unhappiness and engaging with audiences in ways that demonstrate genuine commitment to making positive changes. Key themes include the shift from traditional advertising to more meaningful storytelling, the role of social responsibility in brand identity, and the need for authenticity in consumer engagement.

Spanx discussed the increase in responsibilities of working women over the past few years and how there is stressed caused by trying to keep up with it all. They try to create a solution to this by providing confidence inspiring clothing that can transition with working women throughout the day no matter their task. Olipop discussed the biology behind microbiomes and how there may be scientific reasons why people feel bad. They created their product to help solve this. DailyPay tackled the issue of financial uncertainty or anxiety by creating a product that helps people get paid what they have earned on their own terms.

Overall strategies discussed in the session involve leveraging data and insights to better understand consumer needs and expectations, fostering community and belonging through brand initiatives, and using technology and innovation to address societal challenges. The session also highlights the importance of internal culture in external brand perception, suggesting that brands must embody their values at every level of operation to build trust and loyalty with today’s skeptical consumers.

Ultimately, “Building Brands in the Unhappiness Era” provided a roadmap for brands to thrive by aligning with the values and concerns of their audiences, demonstrating a commitment to societal well-being, and finding the delicate balance between profitability and purpose in order to create consumer lifetime value.

Play as Brand Strategy:

This discussion with leaders from Adobe, Lyft, xDisney, and Cogs & Marvel focused on the innovative concept of integrating playfulness into branding and marketing strategies. This approach advocates for leveraging the intrinsic human love for play to create more engaging, memorable, and emotionally resonant brand experiences. The core idea revolved around the notion that when brands incorporate elements of fun, interactivity, and entertainment into their interactions with consumers, they can foster stronger connections, enhance customer loyalty, and differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace.

Key topics covered in the session include the psychological underpinnings of why play is a powerful tool for engagement, examples of brands that have successfully implemented play into their marketing strategies, and practical tips for businesses looking to infuse play into their branding. The session also explores the balance between maintaining a professional brand image while introducing playful elements, ensuring that these strategies align with the brand’s values and audience expectations.

Some of the ways that play that can be utilized include gamification, interactive advertisements, experiential marketing events, and social media challenges. The discussion emphasized the importance of creativity and innovation in developing play-based branding strategies, as well as measuring the effectiveness of these initiatives through customer engagement metrics and feedback.

The ultimate goal is to provide consumers a place where they feel safe to mess up, where they can collaborate, and feel free, transformed, and rewarded for their time and engagement with the brand.


Apart from the sessions there were also a number of super fun activations that TAI students were able to attend. Here are a few:

Sharpie x Papermate:

This activation took over an entire bar on Rainey Street. Visitors who attended were able to use the new Papermate and sharpie pens to draw on the walls, decorate coasters, hats, and bags, and even write personalized postcards to send to their friends and family. You were able to design our own drinks, using the many fun colors, and the bartenders would make your drink based on what you drew. There was also a fun patio area with various activities and a DJ.

Paramount+ Lodge

Taking over another bar on Rainey Street, the Paramount+ activation built up an additional two stories on top of the existing structure that housed various photo ops that were based on shows and movies on Paramount+. The overarching theme was based around a ski lodge feel and visitors were each given a badge when they entered that was made to feel like an exclusive VIP pass.



A bit of a walk from downtown, the La Croix house had a fun, summery atmosphere that had many photo ops, a live DJ, a bar to get your own LaCroix mocktail, and workers dressed in cute tennis outfits. Outside you could play in a ballpit pool, play cornhole, or just sit at a table and enjoy a refreshing water. They gave away cute tote bags, pop sockets, keychains, and more.

The Delta Lounge:

Taking over an upscale restaurant, stepping into The Delta Lounge was stepping into extravagance. Visitors were given two drink tickets and were able to sit anywhere at nice tables and booths where they were waited on by Delta staff. You could order delicious, chef-curated bites of their menu, and even grab a Starbucks drink from a corner booth where they featured flavors that could only be found in other countries. They also gave out tote bags, sweatshirts, hats and other fun goodies.

Celebrity Sightings:

There were also a few celebrity sightings at SXSW. These included but were not limited to:

Ryan Gosling on the red carpet at the Fall Guy movie
Julie Bowen, in a session on brands leveraging celebrities for impact
Elijah Wood recording a live episode of his podcast, Visitations
Selena Gomez in a session on mental health discussing her brand, WonderMind

Tips and tricks:

This was my first year attending SXSW and one of the first things I would say when people asked me how it was would be, “overwhelming.” I stand by that. There is so much to do and see that it can be hard to decide where to go. The days can fill up fast, time flies, and you suddenly realize your feet are tired, only to check your phone and realize that you have walked over 7 miles that day without realizing it.

There is a bit of a learning curve, but a few days in, you get the hang of it. Here are a few tips and tricks I wish I would have had going in.

Plan Ahead: Before SXSW starts, take time to review the schedule and map out the sessions, panels, and events you want to attend. They will often be in different hotels or ballrooms so make sure that you plan to have travel time between. Some events and activations are only happening for a few days too, so make sure you take a look at the timing and prioritize so you don’t miss out.

  • The SXSW app is a great tool for keeping track of your itinerary and any updates or changes to the schedule. It will also show you on the day of if a session is still open, filling up, or if it is full. This can help you know if you need to hurry up or if it isn’t worth it to walk across town anymore.
  • Download your schedule to your phone. Online and through the SXSW app, you can star your favorite sessions and events and build your personalized schedule. Once you have done this, you can download your schedule to your apple or google calendar and it will include the event info, times, and locations. This is super helpful for blocking out your schedule, especially when some events overlap or go all day. (I learned this after inputting it all manually for the first few days.)
  • SXXpress Pass. Some of the more popular SXSW sessions will have an option to claim a SXXpress pass. This pass will guaranty your entry to the session and allow you to go to a separate line that puts you in the front of the queue. The passes get released at 9am the day before the session and can be claimed on a first come-first served basis. So make sure you plan your sessions two days in advance and have your tabs open and ready for when you wake up in the morning in order to have the best chance of getting them.

Check-in: If you are coming into town on Friday, there is a late check in station. I highly recommend going in the evening instead of waiting to go in the morning. There was no line when we went and we heard that the lines were awful in the convention center the next morning. Also, be sure to fill out your profile and upload a profile picture ahead of time that is cropped to be like a headshot or ID photo. If you don’t have a photo or if it is not a clear photo of your face, you will have to take one there on their webcam… and trust me, the lighting won’t do you any favors.

Be Flexible: While it’s important to have a plan, some of the best SXSW experiences come from spontaneous decisions. Be open to changing your schedule based on recommendations from other attendees, intriguing events you learn about on site, or random pop ups or food stations you may just accidentally walk by.

Dress Comfortably: You’ll likely be on your feet and moving between venues throughout the day. Wear comfortable shoes and clothing appropriate for the weather. Check your weather app daily to know if you should pack an umbrella, etc. You don’t have to dress super professional, but make sure you are confident in what you are wearing because you never know who could be standing in a line next to you. Also, I recommend packing a light jacket or sweater to have with you because the temperature in the sessions vary and sometimes it may be a bit chilly.

Stay Charged: With long days and heavy use of your phone for scheduling, navigation, and social media, make sure you have a portable charger and a wall charger. (I forgot mine and  I definitely regretted it.) There are some charging stations that can be found throughout SXSW but I wouldn’t rely on them.

Network Effectively: SXSW is a prime networking opportunity with professionals from a wide range of industries in attendance. Don’t be shy to introduce yourself and exchange contact information. Follow up with new connections after the festival to maintain those relationships. If you can, I would recommend having business cards on hand, or setting up a virtual business card in an app like HiHello that people can scan and exchange information with you.

Take Breaks: The pace of SXSW can be exhausting and use a lot of your social battery, so it’s important to take breaks to rest and recharge for yourself. Find quiet spots to relax during the day or take a night to turn in early and get solid sleep.

Explore Beyond Your Field: With such a diverse range of sessions and events, SXSW is the perfect time to explore topics outside your primary area of interest. You might discover new insights or innovations that could apply to your own field.

Stay Hydrated and Nourished: There are people handing out drinks or snacks all over the city. Make sure you are grabbing them when you see them. But make sure to drink plenty of water, not just cocktails and energy drinks, and have snacks on hand. Keeping hydrated and fueled will help you maintain your energy levels throughout the festival.


Overall SXSW is highly recommended by everyone who went. It is such a fun and unique opportunity to experience new things and learn from top industry professionals. We were able to take away many insights that have already been implemented into student campaigns in various classes. The experience was invaluable.

Watch full reel here

Additional sessions:

The ad bargain: podcasting position in the ad landscape

Hollywood meets headphones in the ultimate IP crossover

Featured session: when beer goes viral the role of brands & media in fighting hate

Harmonizing the senses, the power of sound

Featured session: mindfulness over perfection: getting real on mental health

Live podcast episode of visitations with Elijah Wood and Daniel Noah

The AI impact: Reshaping the music industry

Looney Tunes’ blueprint for Bringing Legacy Brands to TikTok

Go Viral or Die! – How to Create Viral Marketing Hits

Music + Ads: Breaking Through in an Ever-Changing Landscape

Additional Activations:



Manuka Honey

University of Texas

Porsche x Bose

Poo Pourri


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