South by Southwest Drawing Familiar Brands to Austin

By Michael O'Connell March 13, 2009, 11:48 AM EDT

Playboy bunnies stormed the stage during one of five performances at last year's Rock the Rabbit party.

Photo: Lacy Weathersbee/Playboy

The 2009 incarnation of South by Southwest, the eight-day festival of technology, film, and music in Austin, Tex., looks ready to go ahead relatively unaffected by the economy. Early attendees are already in town for today's kickoff of the interactive portion, and planners maintain that attendance will be on par with recent years. Most key sponsors, including IFC, have returned, and major brands such as Playboy, Red Bull, and a barrage of music magazines, all plan to host parties and other events during the music portion next week.

IFC will hold another public event for the last night of the film portion, with the Decemberists and Gomez headlining the concert. Crossroads, the network's party to bridge the film and music segments of the festival, moved venues this year, to international lounge chain Pangae. Before the party, though, IFC plans to boost interest in a festival screening of its new locally filmed documentary, New World Order, with an agressive stunt this afternoon. Staffers will parade the film's star, conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones, around town in an vehicle outfitted with a bull horn audio system and film signage.

Playboy, which pulled out of Super Bowl festivities just two months ago, isn't holding back from any branding opportunities at SXSW. The third outing of its Rock the Rabbit partnership with local promoters C3 Presents hits Austin Thursday, March 19. Senior marketing manager Lisa Kolodny wasn't keen to reveal any details aside from the show's opening act—rapper Kenan Bell, if you're curious—but did open up about the festival's relevance to Playboy.

“The first year we did this, we really just wanted to get the word out on the Rock the Rabbit campaign as the music extension of our brand,” said Kolodny. “It's ended up being such a great fit for both the initiative and Playboy as a whole, so we want to be here, getting the brand in front of these influencers, who might not be aware of our presence in popular culture. It's the right people at the right time of year.”

Rock the Rabbit changes venues again this year, moving to an old grocery store, which Kolody hopes will give the show a gritty atmosphere. In addition to returning sponsor Jack Daniels, the team brought on Namco to set up gaming areas to promote its new title, Afro Samurai. (The first 100 guests, by the way, will get an afro wig of their own.)

Even more brands plan to host daily events, with Red Bull and industry mags Filter, Fader, and Blender all setting up shop with their own venues throughout downtown Austin for the duration of the music portion.

One would-be secret event seems to be getting the most buzz, though. Gaming publisher Activision planned a surprise performance by rock icons Metallica to promote its latest version of the Guitar Hero series, but someone let the news slip a week early. The Austin Chronicle confirmed on Thursday that the band will headline the Guitar Hero: Metallica showcase on Friday, March 20.

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