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How Improv Is Changing Everything, Even Marketing [SXSW]

March 16, 2015

The below post is a first-person account from one of our brand ambassadors, Fitz Maro (Innovation Strategist at 360i) upon his touching down in Austin. In this post, Fitz recaps one of the SXSW panels he attended – How Improv is Changing Everything – highlighting takeaways from the session that show how improv can have an impact on everything – even marketing.


This past Thursday, at approximately 9:30am, your Twitter feed was hijacked. A fire hose of tweets, check-ins and FOMO-inducing Instagrams with the hashtag #SXSW took over the marketing and advertising industries. Yes, it’s mid-March in Austin, and South By Southwest Interactive is in full swing.

Here in Austin, the deluge of content around creativity, innovation and inspiration can be overwhelming, especially if you were tasked with attending on behalf of a brand or agency. With dozens of panels and sessions per timeslot, it can be hard to decide where you want to be. But when you attend a session that blows away your expectations, it makes all the running around that went into getting you there worthwhile.

In the past few days, I’ve had the pleasure of attending a handful of such amazing sessions and more than a few came from less-than-expected sources. Case in point: the How Improv Is Changing Everything panel I attended Saturday afternoon, featuring four amazing improv actors affiliated with Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB), an improvisational comedy and sketch comedy group described as “an underground organization that tries to undermine society by spreading chaos.” Moderated by UCB’s Shannon O’Neill, the alumni panel consisted of Comedy Central’s Nick Kroll, UCB founding member and king of the comedy podcast Matt Besser, and writer/producer of NBC’s hit Parks and Recreation Katie Dippold.

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The roundtable discussion had many memorable lines – most of which aren’t appropriate for publishing here – but among the many quick witted and sardonic one liners were some nuggets of real gold that everyone in the ad world would be smart to revisit.

On UCB’s meteoric success in recent years: “Focus on community and collaboration”
Besser emphasized that whether it’s at UCB, in the writers’ room for TV shows, or when preparing for his podcast, these two characteristics are crucial for creating a successful output. Similarly, marketers must consider community and collaboration in how they approach branded communications, to form meaningful connections with consumers.

When asked about creating truly unique and creative material: “Always be open to ideas, consider the ‘yes, and…’ to let an idea live. People say no out of fear; it’s less work to say ‘no’; it always feels safer to reject and protect.”
Emphasizing the importance of giving the seedlings of an idea time to live and grow by embracing the improv world’s infamous “yes, and…” tactic was encouraged. The idea that you should say, “Yes, and…” to the ideas presented, no matter what your fellow team members say or do, instead of negating, belittling, dismissing or disagreeing with them is a powerful notion. Dippold was keen to quickly note that once the idea has some time to breathe and grow, if it’s not great, that’s when you can kill it, but not before. Marketers and agencies should remain open to new ways of thinking or working, because that’s from where some of the best material can emerge.

On failure: “We hear it all the time, but you really do need to embrace failure. If you’re nailing it every time, you’re not a real person.”
Besser sounded as if he had a love-hate relationship with this concept as he said it out loud, much like many in the ad industry likely would. But, the second part of the quote jumped out to me in terms of how teams and brands should view failures: That they’re inevitable, that they make us and our work more human, and that they aid us in doing better things going forward.

Read more from the 360i team at SXSW by following hashtag #Sx360i on Twitter and on the 360i blog.