What Top Brands, From Amex to Warby Parker, Are Doing at SXSW

Chevrolet, PepsiCo, Kraft on What They're Planning and Why They're There

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The tech world converges on Austin, Texas, for the interactive portion of the South by Southwest festival for a few days every March, and the presence of more brand marketers every year has added another annual tradition: proclaiming that the event has jumped the shark.

Like it or not, marketers are now part of the fabric. On the plus side, their agendas at the festival have matured since the days it seemed like their main objective was broadcasting their proximity to innovative technology. Some arrive with the hope of scouting out the next Twitter or to launch new products to an audience of early adopters who will hopefully share the news with their social-media networks.

SXSW also offers incredible networking opportunities. Coca-Cola, for example, entered into relationships with three agencies through connections made at the festival in the past year, according to Ashley Brown, director-digital communications and social media.

"I believe people wouldn't come here if they weren't getting something tangible from it," Mr. Brown said.

Here are a few of the brands you'll find at SXSW and what they have planned.

Who: Chris Perry, VP-U.S. marketing, General Motors; Nick Pudar, VP-technology, OnStar
What: Chevy is promoting the latest iteration of OnStar, giving rides via its Catch-a-Chevy shuttle service and crowdsourcing the interior design of its latest concept car, the Chevrolet Code 130R. It will also host a Volt recharge lounge that transforms into a "Sound Garage" featuring indie music and a graffiti-art battle.
Why: It's all about courting the social-media influencers. "All of the Chevy activations at SXSW are focused on bringing value to the participants while giving them a positive experience with our brand," Mr. Perry said.

Warby Parker
Who: Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-CEO
What: The hipster-approved eyewear maker will host Citizen's Circus, an 18-band music festival curated by legendary music supervisor Randall Poster. Of course, attendees can shop in the Warby Parker glasses and sunglasses yurt.
Why: The brand is looking to show off its political colors. In a statement, Mr. Blumenthal noted that the point of Citizen's Circus "is to celebrate our participatory democracy" and to "create a fun, but meaningful, experience in Austin during this election year."

American Express
Who: Ed Gilligan, vice chairman; Leslie Berland, senior VP-digital partnerships and development; Dave Wolf, VP-global business and market development
What: It's hosting the Amex Sync Show with Jay -Z (#JAYZsyncshow), featuring a live demo of the new Twitter hashtag promotion Amex launched last week that enables card members to save when they tweet customized hashtags for a group of launch partners.
Why: American Express has put its money where its mouth is when cozying up to tech companies. In addition to Twitter, it has entered into significant partnerships with Facebook and Foursquare in the past year.

Virgin Mobile
Who: Ron Faris, head of brand marketing, Virgin Mobile USA
What: The company is debuting new features and launching an ad campaign. It's highlighting a "Buzzfeed-like online newsroom," new handsets and a program designed to help app developers that don't have the funding to promote their products to a large audience.
Why: The draw of SXSW is that it's a mashup of pop culture and mobile tech, said Mr. Faris.

Who: Josh Karpf, director-digital media
What: Heading into its fourth year at SXSW, PepsiCo has a program that includes Austin retail activations and a Doritos event, "The Jacked Stage," that will couple musical performances with product seeding. (Attendees will be given a first taste of a new product that won't be in stores until late March.) Building off the "Where There's Pepsi , There's Music," tagline, the company will also be partnering with social DJ'ing platform Turntable.fm.
Why: "For PepsiCo, it's really about being at the center of culture and staying ahead of the trends," said Mr. Karpf. "The [SXSW] audience is connected, digitally native and influential. It's a great place for our brands and consumers to build connections."

Who: Bonin Bough, VP-global digital and consumer engagement, Kraft Foods
What: Kraft is applying the wisdom that the way to the heart is through the stomach by hosting Oreo-branded ice cream socials. Kraft Mobile, an interactive experience, will feature a mac-and-cheese truck, games, Wi-Fi hotspots and charging stations.
Why: Mr. Bough's SXSW plan is to "connect with developers, entrepreneurs and startups."

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