SXSW 2023: Moving from NFTs to LSD

Technology evolves fast. Nothing illustrates that better than attending SXSW each year and noticing how much has changed in just 12 months. In 2022, SXSW was all NFTs and metaverse activations and events, and in 2023 they weren’t anywhere to be found. But a lot was shared at this year’s SXSW that had staying power. In place of NFTs, psychedelics were given their own conference track this year. Here’s a look at what’s hot for healthcare brands.


It was hard not to notice the amount of programming related to psychedelics. They were everywhere. Even the SXSW tote bags and signage in the convention center had a psychedelic theme. Many of the sessions focused on using psychedelics to help treat various conditions ranging from PTSD, anxiety, depression, and many others. Considering the recent focus on mental health, this felt very relevant and made sense for a conference focusing on innovation to look at all aspects of innovation, including disease treatment.

One of the more interesting panels I attended focused on combining the power of psychedelics with other mainstay tech trends at SXSW such as VR.

Platforms such as BrainPark were developed to be a playground for the brain—or in their words “A unique translational facility, purpose built to blend neuroscience with innovations in digital, lifestyle, and psychedelic therapeutics.”

Enosis Therapeutics, makers of AnchoringVR, uses virtual reality to transport the user out of a typical, clinical treatment environment into an alternate reality by replacing familiar settings with wondrous objects and symbols. This, in turn, helps to facilitate deep immersion into the psychedelic experience. Their website states:

“In the AnchoringVR™ scenario patients select or create visual expressions of that experience and fuel them with audio recordings of their insights,” explains [Enosis co-founder Agnieszka] Sekula. “Those insights, represented with stars, are then formed into constellations to serve as a personal memory library of the psychedelic experience. During the integration process, patients revisit those constellations or memory libraries that they built for themselves.”

These constellations or memory libraries serve as multisensory anchors that capture raw, profound psychedelic insights, which can be revisited during integration. The therapeutic process is therefore developed around the altered state of consciousness experience, rather than around a talk therapy framework.


One of the biggest themes this year with high relevance in the healthcare space is gaming technology. Level Ex is pioneering the gaming space as it relates to health and specifically HCPs, taking video game technology such as the graphic engines games are built upon and creating training video games for HCPs to teach them how to do specific procedures. With these games, anyone, anywhere can participate in virtual medical procedures ranging from cardio to derm and beyond. HCPs can even earn continuing education (CE) credits using these games. We met with Level Ex CEO Sam Glassenberg the morning of his session and he gave us a demo where on one phone we controlled one hand, while Sam controlled the other hand on his phone—all instantaneous with near zero lag.

Sam Glassenberg, the CEO of Level Ex, at a podium with a laptop next to a large screen with a slide that shows a map of the world. In the center of the map is a smartphone with an image of a virtual leg being cut along knee as if for surgery. There are lines pointing from top spots of the map, one from the United States and another from Europe, that lead to the phone in the center. The title of the slide is "Medicine's Metaverse: The Useful."
Level Ex CEO Sam Glassenberg details how metaverse technology can be utilized in medicine.

Other major gaming themes throughout the conference were related to the use of digital twins. Leveraging gaming technology such as the Unreal Engine used to make the most popular 3D games, game developers can create ultra-realistic looking patients and organs in full 3D for doctors to examine and test procedures on.

At CES in January, Dassault Systèmes showed how their virtual twin of a heart and brain were even having different medications and procedures tested on them to determine the proper course of action. This is not years away—it is already happening at Boston’s Children’s Hospital.


Sustainability in the media and ad tech space is an emerging topic that we expect to see much more of this year. Many people do not realize this, but the carbon output from the servers that run the global ad network generate more carbon than all of air travel combined. One ad impression generates 1 gram of CO2. Now think about how many ads you get yourself per day. Add it up globally, and it is staggering. Most pharma brands today are already exploring how to lessen their carbon footprint.

Founded by Brian O’Kelley, who was an early innovator in the programmatic space, Scope3 has emerged as a leader in sustainability. Scope3 is looking to create a new system that rewards fewer auctions with higher-quality ads, reduces the number of intermediaries between advertisers and publishers and cuts down on redundancies in the complex bidding systems he helped invent. Watch this space, because having a plan to address climate change will be critical for all brands this year.

Social Media

One big thing missing from SXSW this year were massive activations from Facebook, Pinterest, Snap, and Twitter—the Twitter house was a mainstay on Rainy Street for years and home base for many in the ad world. In their place, TikTok alone had programming and events that seemed to represent all of social media. And not just social, but in a way, search as well, as we know that younger generations are now “searching” in the same way that others utilize Google and Bing.

TikTok held sessions in their own space but also had several packed sessions in the conference center. Some impressive stats mentioned during these panels—TikTok now has 1 billion users monthly. TikTok users are 30% more likely to discover new topics that they didn’t even know they liked. The “TikTok made me buy it” hashtag has 44 billion views—over five times the entire population of planet earth.

Social is an ever-changing industry, but it’s still likely TikTok will continue to be the big thing for months to come and worth considering for your campaigns.


While AI sessions were everywhere, AI is changing so fast that even just a few days after SXSW there’s more to report on. Between the conference sessions and today—a span of a few days, everything discussed is old news with the roll out this week of GPT4 and products like Google’s medical-focused AI, Med-PaLM 2. While our clients are already using AI technology to better connect with their key audiences, it’s fascinating to see the many more ways AI will be part of our marketing in the months to come.

In Closing

It’s important for healthcare brands to know that everything I covered in this recap are things we can act on now. Brands need to start planning for these emerging areas and shift their content and creative strategies to not get completely left behind.

  • Mark Pappas

    Mark Pappas is SVP, Innovation at CMI Media Group. Mark is a catalyst within CMI Media Group to spark and drive innovation forward. He is responsible for bringing new and unique opportunities to clients and works alongside partners to create new offerings, keeping on the cutting edge of technology, media, and advertising. He has been responsible for many firsts for the pharma marketing industry, stemming from his strong relationships with leading emerging media companies and pharma clients paired with his early-adopter mentality and passion for technology.


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