Companies stump their stuff in Denver

The political partying has started.

The Democratic National Convention opened Monday in Denver. Next week, the Republicans get underway in St. Paul. And marketers — seeing a chance to reach tens of thousands of delegates, government and party officials, volunteers and spectators — are putting on their party hats, too.

General Motors, gm for instance, will provide hundreds of cars to both parties. GM, a convention car donor since 1980, is providing for the first time this year all gas-electric hybrids or E85 flex-fuel vehicles (85% ethanol fuel). The goal: highlight GM's more eco-friendly technology.

"If you look at the makeup of convention attendees and delegates … these are some of the most influential people in the country. They are opinion and thought leaders in their community," spokesman Greg Martin says. "You rarely get (access to) such a high level of people."

Denver-based Molson Coors Brewing tap is joining in as well. It is providing ethanol it makes from "beer waste" for the GM cars in Denver.

Also polishing its green credentials is Coca-Cola Recycling. A unit of bottler Coca-Cola Enterprises, ko it will work with Waste Management wmi on recycling at both conventions. Among its plans: recycling bins with the Coke logo that read, "Give it back."

On Thursday, Coca-Cola North America will hold its largest-ever sampling event at Invesco Field at Mile High for nominee Barack Obama's acceptance speech. Coke will dole out samples of VitaminWater, Coke Zero, Simply Lemonade, Nestea and Gold Peak tea, as well as bottles of Dasani water to those in security lines. It plans sampling in St. Paul, too

Capitalizing on a passionate convention crowd can be smart, as long as it's bipartisan, says Joe Erwin, president of ad agency Erwin-Penland and former head of the South Carolina Democratic Party. "If you start picking favorites then you're going to limit the growth of your brand."

While Coke and GM are "official providers" for each convention, brands don't need a formal affiliation to vie for attendee attention.

Condom-maker Trojan chd teamed with Rolling Stone magazine to put on a "condomvention" Monday night that was hosted by comedian and HBO star Bill Maher. That event and other activities are intended to raise awareness about issues such as sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy, marketing Vice President Jim Daniels says.

"The Republican and Democratic conventions are appropriate forums" to highlight the importance of sexual education, he says.

Other brands in attendance:

•Kraft. "Convention editions" of its Macaroni & Cheese dinners include a "Democrats in 2008" package with donkey- and star-shaped pasta and a "Republicans in 2008" edition with elephant- and star-shaped pasta. Kraft kft will deliver more than 20,000 boxes to each convention.

•Papa John's. To promote its whole-wheat crust, it created a giant, pizza-shaped pzza crop display in a 6-acre wheat field in Commerce City, Colo., visible from planes arriving at the Denver airport. A pizza image cut into the wheat has red mulch "pepperoni" and black mulch "olive" toppings. The chain is working on promotions for St. Paul.

•Lionsgate. The studio lgf is using the conventions to promote upcoming movies W. and Religulous.

Outdoor ads will tout the Oct. 17 release of the Oliver Stone film W. about George W. Bush's life.

Lionsgate will distribute postcards to hype the Oct. 3 release of Religulous, which follows Maher as he interviews people about religion.

•CNN. For the 2004 Republican convention in New York City, the cable network and marketing agency Civic Entertainment Group set up a "CNN Diner." It redecorated an existing diner with CNN material, created a special menu and also used it as a programming set.

This year, it's back with a "CNN Grill" at both conventions that will be used for both production and socializing. The grill will serve "CNN Brew" beer and food, such as burgers and BLTs. It'll be open to a range of attendees, including CNN staff, current on-air guests, past guests, advertisers and sponsors.

The network wanted to "create an atmosphere you'd have at a place like Cheers— a good feeling and everyone knows who you are," says Scot Safon, chief marketing officer for CNN Worldwide.

Not to miss out, rival Fox News nws has set up its own production/hospitality facility at each event called "The Fox Experience."