Chevy test drives social and mobile at SXSW

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GM is testing mobile and social marketing tactics for its Chevrolet brand at South by Southwest (SXSW) this week. The goal is to reach new audiences at the interactive conference and music festival. At the conference today, the brand is kicking off a test of QR codes, a mobile bar-coding technology. If successful, it will be rolled out in their marketing efforts across the country.

The event also marks Chevrolet's focus on CRM this year. The automaker plans to use various new media technologies to help build relationships with consumers. Leading up to the SXSW event, Chevrolet sponsored an Amazing Race-style road trip/scavenger hunt called the "Chevy SXSW Challenge." In it, eight groups of social media influencers drove from various cities to Austin for SXSW. The influencers used social media to broadcast their adventures online to consumers, who could interact with the content and learn about the cars.

Competitor Ford Motor Company has been doing social marketing since last summer, when the car company launched a Web site where consumers can share stories about their Fords and interact with other car owners. Ford also currently hosts a number of social initiatives including , a contest for couples to tie their wedding plans to their car; and a dedicated social network for Fiesta owners.

While the goal of their tests at SXSW is more about testing ideas than selling cars, Barger did say that this is the first time they are reaching out to a tech savvy audience, who they are hoping to sell cars to in the future.

“We've always hoped to attract this audience, but up until now we have not done a good job because we haven't gone to where they live,” he said. “We want to win them over, and in the long term we hope to sell them cars.”

“Many of the really big digital influencers are in the same place at the same time,” said Chris Barger, director of social media for GM. “We hope to get their feedback on what works and what doesn't work about the campaign. It is an experiment. The real value is how can we apply this in marketing campaigns across our portfolio in showrooms.”

Chevrolet will host a “recharge booth” at the event, with computer chargers couches, and drinks. The booth will also have various models of their new cars. The cars will be equipped with various QR codes that consumers can photograph with their Web-enabled mobile phones to be linked to a Web site with more information.

Different QR codes on each vehicle will link to different pages. For example, a user can scan the code to find out about the engine or the interior. All of the pages will link back to the Chevrolet site, where a consumer can find more information about how to take a test drive or purchase the vehicle.

At SXSW, Chevrolet will also be giving free ride and drives in its new model cars at the event during the day. It will also offer a free taxi service around town in the evenings. The idea is to build buzz and get some attention on Twitter and Facebook. However, Barger said that rather than encouraging consumers to Tweet, they are just trying to offer a good service that people will want to Tweet about.

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