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We Are What We Click: The Dark Side of Sideboobs, a Panel Review

"Machiavelli sponsored most of the great art of the Middle Ages."

Headlines work on me, so off I went to a panel called, “We Are What We Click: The Dark Side of Sideboobs.”

What could it be?! How bad is sideboob?

Well, said the panel of sideboob marketers, it’s not bad at all! Only good. Sideboob is great. Panel clickbait.

Some technology conferences have a purpose. SXSW — a barbecue-sauce-soaked interpretive brand dance, a meme orgy with drones and hashtags spewed across downtown Austin right now — is not one of those. But each year the scrum arrives for the party, and Austin wraps its walls and sign posts in a thick layer of protective plastic. Though it’s largely meetups and bar crawls, there are also panels, and at those panels one will find strange things.

Today’s sideboob panel featured people who make and place branded content — Kyle Monson, founding partner of content PR agency Knock Twice; Mikala Bierma, associate creative director at BuzzFeed; Todd Sawicki, CEO of content marketer platform Zemanta, and a random fellow who volunteered from the audience because a panelist had dropped out. The topic was how low can content from companies like Allstate and Intel go before consumers become too horrified to click.

“I ran sales and marketing for Cheeseburger and basically turned Internet cat videos into a multimillion-dollar business, which means they’re now sustainable,” said Sawicki as introduction.

Sawicki cued up an image from the bottom of a Business Insider story to a selection of ‘you might also like’ stories.

“We have to have brands competing against content producers for clicks, so really the question is do you want to debase yourself for clicks?” Sawicki said. “Five out of eight of these slots are boobs and thongs. One of them is IBM.”

The panelists discussed click-through rates for a company like IBM with a banner ad versus the lower-brow “you might also like” boob-and-thong section. Apparently, IBM will do better there among the thongs.

The moderator, Monson, said someone has tweeted a question about headline fatigue.

“We’re getting really good at writing those headlines as a culture,” Monson said. “And it’s an arms race between the big publishers and brands.”

So the question for the panel was, how do we deal with sideboob fatigue?

Mikala Bierma, the associate creative director of BuzzFeed, had an answer: Don’t promise more sideboob than you end up giving.

“We have clear, defined headlines,” she said. “So if it’s ’13 Corgis That Will Make You Smile,’ it will be 13 corgis that make you happy.”

For her, there is art in this.

“Writing BuzzFeed headlines is like a language, you can hear it, there’s a cadence,” Bierma said.

Someone asked about where journalism fits in all this. Sawicki launched into a defense of the dark art of sideboob and journalism.

“Brands sponsor it,” Sawicki said. “But Machiavelli sponsored most of the great art of the Middle Ages.”

Afterward, I asked Sawicki if he could expand on that idea.

“A lot of brands, the Allstates and the Intels, they’re all very much about the vegetables. They look at their own campaigns and they’re like, ‘How can we do better? How can we get more from this?'” Sawicki said. “And I’m like, ‘See these sideboob pictures?'”

Later I’ll be covering: “Speaking Duckface to Power: Selfies and Activism.”

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