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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
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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?
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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.
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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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