SXSW 2021: Wake Up to Digital’s Second Reawakening

by Max Divak

I was lucky enough to catch a standout presentation in Wesley ter Haar’s “Wake up to Digital’s Second Reawakening.” I started out in the creative industry around the same time as Wesley. Back when Flash reigned supreme. Brands had million-dollar microsites and the only metric for success was being the most creative website and achieving ‘site of the day’ on the various design portals. It was an exciting time of interactive experimentalism that met an untimely death through the long, system-laden process of “digital transformation” –simply put, new platforms, CMS systems and wrapping every feature into nicely wrapped boxes to make adaptation to the newer ways more painless became the playing field. 

This begs the question: are we there yet? Much of the industry platforms and tools are still built around the traditional ad buy landscape, including analytic and conversion criteria. Linear storytelling like video gets overused, quite frankly, because it seems the easiest, and it fits the old TV template. This, in turn, has created a dark age for interactive digital storytelling. With everyone working from home over the past year, and people online for longer periods than ever before, it’s become clear how so many in marketing are relying on old tricks to keep audiences engaged. Much of what we see online today at was designed to quickly convert hyper-distracted visitors. But where’s the brand promise? What’s the mindset? And what kind of relationship was etched?  

Every single person you know walks around with the perfect medium for creative delivery: our phones are powerful devices with tons of interactive features, and it stalks you throughout your day. What could proper interactive storytelling look like on our current devices in your browser? Have these experiences been reserved only for games and apps alone? I see untapped potential for deeper, more meaningful interactive experiences for the categories of Health awareness and education within the browser. Experiences that are accessible to anyone, anywhere. Unlike in days of old, now we’ve mastered data and analytics in order to tune and hone these experiences. And of course, determine if it was money well spent.  

A few quotes that resonated, even after the session was over:  

  • “Don’t underestimate fun” 
  • “Feed the feeds” 
  • “Show the receipts”