Chevy Uses SXSW Confab to Kick off Social Media, Tech Push

Program Is Part of Automaker's Plan to Spend 30% of Marketing Money on Digital in 2010

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Chevrolet has affixed QR codes on the hoods of cars that, when photographed with a camera phone, will launch microsites with features info.
Chevrolet has affixed QR codes on the hoods of cars that, when photographed with a camera phone, will launch microsites with features info.
NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Chevrolet's making a big splash at South by Southwest Interactive this year, and it's just the beginning of the automaker's planned 30% commitment to digital this year.

"This is not a nine-day one-off," said Christopher Barger, General Motor's director of social media. "Everything we're doing here needs to have applications we can build on beyond Austin."

Returning from nosedive
This program is one of the first major social-media and technology campaigns from a Big Three automaker other than Ford Motor since the industry took a nosedive in 2008. But Mr. Barger said Chevy's social media, augmented reality and mobile programs at SXSW are not intended to steal the digital-savvy spotlight from Ford. Instead, they're test pilots for the embattled automaker, which Mr. Barger said plans to commit about 30% of its marketing money to digital this year.

Chevrolet is launching an extensive digital campaign at the music, film and interactive festival, including a tie-in with Austin, Texas-based Gowalla, where users check in from their phones around the city to get messages and SXSW offers from the General Motors brand. For example, those flying into Austin can check in at the airport for a free ride downtown in an Equinox.

"The reason we're doing this here is so really smart tech people can make suggestions," Mr. Barger said of the swarms of digital agency and technology people that descend on Austin every March. "This is a place for us to learn. How do we apply this to the rest of the marketing we'll be doing moving forward?"

Christopher Barger
Christopher Barger
Strides in digital innovation
Chevrolet has also affixed QR codes on the hoods of cars that, when photographed with a camera phone, will launch microsites with features info. Chevy's also released the iReveal app to view three-dimensional, augmented reality models of cars on the streets of Austin. While none of these programs -- save free rides from the airport, of course -- sound revolutionary, it's a good start for an automaker that has fallen behind Ford on digital innovation. Mr. Barger said that while GM has kept its eye on Ford like any company does with a competitor, it's not looking to emulate what Ford has done in social or digital media.

"If really all you're doing when building a strategy is looking to what others have done, you're not going to be successful," he said of GM's plans for digital vis-a-vis Ford. "You need to draw attention to your own brand and find something unique to you."

Chevy has also handed out eight cars for teams to road trip to Austin from all corners of the country, while completing missions determined by Twitter followers along the way and tracking their progress through OnStar and Facebook, though the idea to put people in a car and have them document their experience through social media bears some resemblance to Ford's Fiesta Movement.

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