How Chevy Won SXSWi

I just came back from SXSWi, and the best way to describe it was mardi-gras for geeks. Although I had a blast and managed to fill my days with sessions, speakers, and productive meetings, what was most striking was the torrent of marketing activity going on. Yes, there were dozens of mobile place-based and group messaging apps launching (all of them seemed to be following the same strategy of having cute girls in branded tank-tops handing out post cards), and yes the big brands came out to play (e.g. Samsung, Pepsi, Microsoft, etc), however the clear winner in my mind was Chevrolet.

Using a big wide, generalizing brush, I’m going out on a limb that the goals of sponsorsing SXSW would be:

  • Connect your brand with the concepts of hip, savvy, technical, relevant, forward-thinking, etc
  • Get young, connected, social-media minded people to talk about your brand
  • Have people with disposable cash try your product, to intice them to buy

I’m sure there are other goals, but let’s start there, as I’d like to share how General Motors kicked ass on these fronts.

General Motors isn’t a brand that I’d normally associate with any of those adjectives above (connected, hip, etc) but the showed some keen insight in their execution at SXSW.

Vector 1: Get People To Try Your Product

Just outside the conference centre, GM had a “Drive a Chevy” setup, where you could exchange contact & demographic information for the right to drive any of the Chevy Cruze, Volt, Camaro, or Corvette. After filling out the forms, I was whisked off to the Volt line where I had all of 30 seconds to wait before getting into a vehicle. This car has one hell of a first impression – the interior is gorgeous, and as we drove off, I realized it had surprisingly good acceleration. From there I had the chance to shift over and give the new Camaro convertible a drive, and was similarly impressed. Finally, I capped the afternoon off by taking a new Corvette Convertible for a spin around Austin. All together, it was an incredible way for them to introduce their cars to me, and to really show of their new design approaches. All three vehicles were fantastic to drive, and now none of them would feel out-of-place in my garage 😉

Vector 2: Get People to Learn About & Talk About Your Product

Chevy offered a “Catch-a-Chevy” program where they had 30 Chevy Cruze’s driving people around town – essentially running a free cab service. The drivers new their cars, and didn’t hesitate to talk about the festival and the brand. This was reinforced by telling people about it through twitter and heavily broadcasting the #ChevySXSW hashtag. It worked incredibly well – people were lined up waiting for a drive, and it did a great job of teaching people about the the Cruze. Beyond that, people were telling their friends and other attendees about the free drives and about the test drives. Their placement (just outside the front doors) was excellent, and their use of social media reinforced the buzz.

Vector 3: Show Off Something Different & New

Cars, even electric cars, aren’t *that* new – what was pretty different, however, was the 360 Photo Boom with the Chevy Sonic. By placing about 30 digital SLRs on a circular boom, they could snap a pic of you from multiple angles. They then animated it much like was done in The Matrix. It was new, different, and shareable. Here’s mine.

Vector 4: Ease a Pain

They had a kick-ass charging lounge (all of the attendees were busy draining the batteries of their cell phones and laptops), and with the Catch a Chevy program, were resolving taxi dilemmas. Need I say more?

Put these efforts all together, and I found myself leaving SXSW with a much more positive impression of GM’s future, their design sense, their products, and their relevance to me. Before SXSW I don’t think I could have identified a manufacturer that “got it” when I thought of technology, social media, and experiential marketing.

Now, however, if someone asked me to pick one, I’d be pointing at Chevy. That’s why I think Chevy won SXSW.


VP HCM Products at NetSuite and Founder of TribeHR and Lewis Media. Waterloo Region Enthusiast and active volunteer.


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