Why This Startup Is Showcasing a 2,000-Year-Old Technology at SXSW

Targeting the touch-screen crowd with good, old-fashioned paper

Paper & Packaging Board is showing off its creative uses for cardboard.

Writing scrolls were first created in China from sheets of mulberry tree some 2,000 years before humankind embarked on the digital age in the 1990s, when a paper-less world was first imagined before the 21 century wholeheartedly embraced it. So unless you are ironically goofing around with a paper hat, paper is now old hat, right?

Well, why then is Paper & Packaging Board trying to drum up buzz among the touch-screen crowd at the tech-heavy South by Southwest Interactive this year? It wants to show off a dozen crazy things that have been made with the two-year-old startup’s pulp-based products by renting a big exhibit space and enlisting a messaging team to report from the ground on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.

“[It] is a perfect venue for the paper industry because it’s where the best and newest in digital and analog converge,” contended Mary Anne Hansan, president of Paper and Packaging Board. “Maybe even more so given the exciting anyways innovators are using it to solve modern needs.”

Indeed, her USDA-approved not-for-profit, which has an annual marketing and operations budget of $25 million, is bringing the papyrus to Central Texas. People who stroll by its Austin Convention Center booth might be pleasantly taken aback by playable drum kits and guitars (it’s a huge musical festival, after all), as well as baby boxes for sleeping infants (evidently popular in Finland), a usable surfboard and a tent-like shelter for homeless people. All of these examples were made out from cardboard.

“Many of the innovators we feature are first in their space, applying new thinking about paper and paper-based materials as the material of choice for real-life uses,” said Hansan.

Passersby will likely also take note of a woman in a paper dress and jacket that were specially designed for SXSW, as she invites festival-goers to take a look at how creativity and pulp blend in 2017.

But how do environmentally-minded people—tree-huggers, as some may call them—typically react to Paper and Packaging’s message, which seems to say that mining a few groves here and there is OK.

“There hasn’t been a backlash or pushback,” answered Maja Stevanovich, evp of client strategy and service at Mungo Creative Group, the organization’s experiential agency. “It’s recyclable.”

How social-media-friendly its presence at South By turns out to be will be worth watching. And you can write that down—in a notebook with a pencil or pen, while you are at it.