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At SXSWi 2011, Brands Take “Interactive” Literally

Group messaging and picture apps were the obvious contenders to break through at this year’s South by Southwest, and based on the hundreds of thousands of GroupMe threads muted and Instagram filters applied, it seems that both varieties of apps are well poised for the mainstream. For countless other companies, however, making SXSW more than a four-day bender of a work write-off can be a challenge. Free beer and vaguely familiar musical acts work when you have marketing budgets the size of StumbleUpon‘s or Foursquare‘s, but it’s hard to recite your elevator pitch when the crowd is moshing. We found several apps, sites and giant media conglomerates whose untraditional approaches to engage the tech set at SXSW involved more than “open the bar and they will come.”

Sick of being seen strictly as a TV channel, CNNMoney paid up to take over a restaurant for the week and extended free passes to founders, engineers, and investors in a bid to beef up its Internet coverage. FastCompany showed that big brand minds think alike, they had a similar set-up on the opposite side of the convention center with plenty of product demos on hand. GroupMe, the startup of the grilling bunch, went more egalitarian and ditched the passes and indoor space in favor of a grilled cheese shack. Founders handed out beer and sandwiches while chatting with users and troubleshooting apps.

Uber, the SF car service app, went native by commandeering the ubiquitous Austin pedicabs and putting them to work. Uber VIPs were able to use their apps to call a “cab” and take it to their next destination — as long as that next panel or meet-up was within biking distance. Rumors of Uber’s expansion to points East have yet to be proven, but much like Uber’s pop-up in Paris during LeWeb, this SXSW stunt is a great way to prepare the market and end the oft-heard question “Uber … like Uber Twitter?”.

Abrams Media Network’s next site, Mogulite, got in on the alternative action as well. They teamed up with Johnnie Walker to host a whisky tasting for members of the tech community poolside in Austin. The laid-back hangout was a welcome respite from the forced networking and long lines of festival going and the tasting lesson proved useful for Bnter co-founder Lauren Leto – her New Year’s Resolution was to learn how to drink whisky.

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