Opinion

The rest of the world is speaking a new language

It's the 30th year of SXSW, and I'm a relative newbie, writes Rob Bartlett, head of O2 at VCCP.

Copywriting: the web is moving to different visual languages
Copywriting: the web is moving to different visual languages

But with only a handful of days behind me, it keeps on getting better and better on board the merry-go-round of innovative leaders, disruptive start-ups, film makers, musicians, and even a fair few of us London agency folk.

Hell, even the leader of the free world turned up yesterday and locked down central Austin with his security people.

This year I was keen to immerse myself in keynotes and speakers exploring the new ways people are communicating with each other, and how data is enabling us to spot changes emerging across global culture.

To analyse how emojis are becoming engrained in people’s lives, Dr Ben Medlock, co-founder of Swiftkey, gave a brilliant presentation with linguistics expert Gretchen McCulloch.

Positive use of emotion dominates – 20% of worldwide use is for just one emoji (a face with tears of laughter) and millennials are starting to hack into the limited Unicode character set to create their own combinations of emoji and a whole new form of language. Ultimately this is leading us into a new era: the era of non-textual, written communication.

Gretchen McCulloch draws parallels with the emergence of hieroglyphs and cave paintings thousands of years ago. An ancient and complex form of communication that has now been adopted at true scale globally: food for thought for every copywriter in our industry.

How BuzzFeed tells stories across formats

The mighty BuzzFeed’s Frank Cooper also talked new models of communication. BuzzFeed has long been aware of global shifts in communication, and champions a native, short-form approach to content that now drives upwards of 6bn (!) views each month. To quote Cooper: "Empathy and human connection are our new superpowers". BuzzFeed has put simple visual story-telling at the heart of everything it does.

From GIFs to snaps, BuzzFeed is obsessed with creating content that fits the medium, rather than an old-world news model which favours one format.

The company sees this as a fundamental shift in way people consume information – from broadcast models to participative models; from the news agenda to an agenda that fits the individual.

In a fascinating mini-case study on Tasty – BuzzFeed’s food network - Frank Cooper explained how a process of constant creation, adaption, distribution and learning has reinvented the way recipes are communicated. Just watch the hypnotic ‘Guacamole Onion Rings’ on YouTube for a glimpse of the future.

And finally, during the best named talk of the day, ‘Email is the devil and must be vanquished’, we learnt about the perils of old-world communication. Inboxes stuffed with tens of thousands of unread messages. Corporate cultures where ‘reply all’ quickly shifts blame from one team to another. Thankfully millennials simply don’t use email so its days are numbered. Time to start talking a new language!