Brands on the run at SXSW

More than ever, the South by Southwest Interactive Festival was a marketing showcase. Here are some of the most interesting--and weirdest--uses of marketing dollars at this year's confab.

Caroline McCarthy
1 of 14 Caroline McCarthy/CNET

Tagged goes for Texas-size limos

The presence of marketers at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival (or SXSWi as it's historically been known) was ubiquitous--even right after landing at Austin's airport. Social network Tagged was just one of the companies that had arranged complimentary private transit, like this flashy white limo.

2 of 14 Caroline McCarthy/CNET

AOL goes artsy

SXSWi ran alongside the SXSW Film Festival, so AOL had set up shop at the Austin Convention Center as "AOL Studios," geared equally toward filmmakers and geeks.
3 of 14 Caroline McCarthy/CNET

About.me photobooth

About.me, a personal profile start-up that AOL acquired earlier this year, had its own setup at "AOL Studios," where a professional photographer would take pictures for SXSWi attendees' About.me profiles.
4 of 14 Caroline McCarthy/CNET

Microsoft pitches to the masses

Microsoft's big event at SXSWi was launching its Internet Explorer 9 browser at the W Hotel on Monday night (complete with a concert by hipster staple Yeasayer), but it also had set up a pretty big display at the Austin Convention Center.
5 of 14 Caroline McCarthy/CNET

The free food extravaganza

Offering free food in proximity to the Austin Convention Center was a big-time marketing promotion at SXSWi this year. Messaging service GroupMe set up shop with free grilled cheese; coupon broker Groupon sponsored an empanada truck; and here, publishing platform Squarespace had a big free-food distribution outlet across the street from the expo hall.
6 of 14 Caroline McCarthy/CNET

Chargers galore

Another popular variety of marketing at this year's SXSWi: Gadget-charging services. Auto brand Lincoln, which sponsored business magazine Fast Company's space at the Moonshine Patio restaurant, offered chargers galore.
7 of 14 Caroline McCarthy/CNET

CNN Grill

Cable channel CNN was a newcomer to the SXSWi brand scene this year, completely taking over a bar called Max's and temporarily renaming it the "CNN Grill." It held events, receptions, and parties in the space all week.
8 of 14 Caroline McCarthy/CNET

Pepsi returns, bigger than ever

PepsiCo was a big-time sponsor of SXSWi last year, and this year it was back for more. Its "Pepsi Max Lot" took over an entire parking lot, and the company co-sponsored a concert by hip-hop star Big Boi with geolocation company Foursquare.
9 of 14 Caroline McCarthy/CNET

Another parking lot takeover: A carousel

GE's Ecomagination initiative made a splash at SXSWi with a solar-powered carousel in a parking lot. Called "Carousolar," it was also the site of an impromptu party on Tuesday afternoon that featured free tacos and the band in which actor Michael Cera plays bass.
10 of 14 Caroline McCarthy/CNET

Nikon and Ashton Kutcher

Camera company Nikon sponsored multiple parties at SXSWi, including a massive concert in partnership with video company Vimeo, as well as a scavenger hunt in which participants had to track down the whereabouts of actor, investor, and Nikon poster boy Ashton Kutcher.
11 of 14 Caroline McCarthy/CNET

PopChips pillows

Speaking of Ashton Kutcher, one of the companies in which he has invested--snack brand PopChips--was all over SXSWi with promotions. On Sunday night, giant PopChips pillows were tossed about in the VIP section of a party at Hangar Lounge.
12 of 14 Caroline McCarthy/CNET

Mog did--what?

Music service MOG made an announcement at SXSWi about making its technology available in cars. To commemorate that, it commissioned a...MOGmobile?
13 of 14 Caroline McCarthy/CNET

Zazzle and its free iPhone cases

Zazzle, a company that lets users design custom gear, was giving away free iPhone 4 cases emblazoned with whatever users wanted to put on them.
14 of 14 Caroline McCarthy/CNET

Hooters gonna hoot

Some companies eschewed a bigger marketing presence in favor of having a mascot strut around late at night in Austin's rowdy bar district. Here's the owl mascot for social-media client HootSuite.

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