Lot of bitching and moaning about the number of corporate sponsors at SXSW this year. I'm not sure why though: most everyone I know seemed to more or less ignore them. (Or at least the ones that weren't their clients.)
None of them provided anything I really needed or wanted. (Okay, I did use the very clean bathroom at some brands "party space" but the "space"-- a parking lot covered with AstroTurf- had club-level house music blasting, along with some picnic tables and chairs, and I could not for the life of me figure out why I'd want to stay there once I was done. Nor do I remember the brand.)
But back to the original topic: most people seemed to be blowing by the big brand-sponsored booths on their way to someplace more relevant. The GE Solar Carousel was cool to look at when I walked past it, but that was all they got from me: "cool merry-go-round, guys."
The lesson seems to be you can't graft something artificial onto something whose salient feature is authenticity. Both the purpose of the conference itself, and the food, bars and overall scene of the city of Austin.
Let them come. If they were smart, they'd pay for a speaker or two instead of setting up what are essentially giant trade show booths in the conference center.
Without the pens or free t-shirts