Playing the field: brands at music festivals

With the music industry’s thoughts turning to the lucrative holiday sales period, the festival arena seems like a distant memory. However, as music fans pack their tents away brands are already setting their agenda for next year’s on-site presence at key music events. Here we look at what we’ve learnt from another ‘summer of brand love’.

Brands love music festivals, and it’s not hard to see why. Where else can you find a predominantly young, captive, emotionally charged audience engaged in a shared, tangible social experience? This is a brand’s big moment to shine in a strong passion-led context. However, striking a connection with music’s most dedicated fan base now requires much more than a logo emblazoned pop-up presence.

For brands a music festival is something of a strange paradox. Instead of the traditional method of creating digital, print, and outdoor campaigns that are looking for a route in with an audience, they are presented with an audience on a plate, and left to build a proposition around a guaranteed response (good or bad) from tens of thousands of music fans.

In many ways netting a brand activation at a major music event is like winning a ‘grab-all-you-can’ trolley dash at your favourite store. Everything is there for the taking, but what do you actually go for in your limited time frame? It’s a difficult make or break situation, which would explain why some brands have opted to tread so tentatively in this space in the past. The fear of doing it wrong can sometimes stifle innovation in the festival space, leaving us with fields full of identikit ‘safe’ offerings.

Live events are the ultimate opportunity for brands to put their best foot forward with music fans, but just because everyone’s having a good time it doesn’t change the fact the message needs to be spot on. Festival activations need to have clearly defined goals. Pitching up at a festival with a heavy-handed banner campaign, a branded bus and a few deckchairs isn’t going to set anyone’s festival experience alight. Yet historically, just ‘being there’ has been the default setting for a number of branded festival activities.

However, times are changing and slowly but surely the activation crops are being rotated on the festival playing field. Brands are now waking up to the notion that playing it safe simply doesn’t cut it any more, and that those clever digital strategies and social media integrations, utilised with gusto elsewhere, need to roll over onto the often-undervalued festival space.

In order to get a real lay of the land, we at FRUKT decided to send out a vast team of avid music fans to the majority of the UK’s key festivals (and a number of international ones) this summer to gauge just how far brands have progressed. As anticipated, there were deckchairs, chill areas, branded buses and free giveaways aplenty, but there were also numerous examples of brands developing more defined on-site partnerships.

For example, Converse rolled out its Art Factory proposition across a variety of festivals this year, including the adult-free Underage Festival in London and the ever-popular Lowlands festival in the Netherlands. Positioned as a creative hub, the activation had all the usual music trimmings, but also a wide variety of hands-on art elements, enabling throngs of young people to express themselves with marker pens on actual Converse product. A bold statement on creativity itself, as opposed to a paint by numbers banner campaign. “We want to be a platform for creativity and the Converse Compound is a very literal translation of this,” said Kirsten Den Drijver, marketing manager, Converse Benelux, with regards to the Lowlands festival activity. “Through this activation we were able to create the atmosphere of a mini festival within a festival, creating our own brand experience where festival goers could get creative, hang out, watch others and dance all night”.

Then there was Boden at the family friendly Camp Bestival, a brand making its first foray onto the scene with an unabashed and natural air of confidence that put many stalwart brands to shame. All the standard elements were there, an integrated bar, a dance floor, rails of product, even a deckchair or two. However, there were also intimate DJ sessions from headline acts, bedtime stories from the artists and a genuine opportunity for parents to enjoy music on the dance floor with their children in tow. No gimmicks, no hard sell, but an activation that became a destination, rather than a branded stall. “The Boden brand stands for far more than just selling clothes, it represents a lifestyle and a set of values,” said Rob Silsbury, marketing manager at Boden. “A physical presence made it possible to bring that to life and provide a tangible experience for not just our existing customers, but also for those who have not heard of us before”.

Mobile operator Orange, although something of a Glastonbury festival stalwart, managed to push its innovative take on festival utility a stage further in 2010 as the music event notched up its 40th year. It’s Glasto Tag post-event promotion, which invited thousands of festival attendees to tag themselves on a vast panoramic photo taken from the Pyramid Stage, showcased a brand that understood the importance of netting brand equity beyond the field. “Historically, post-event coverage has been hard. This year Glasto-tag provided a great vehicle for us to generate social media buzz in a truly engaging way,” said Andrew Pearcey, head of brand partnerships at Orange UK.

These are just a few examples, there are many more. Brands appear to be opening up to the importance of researching and interacting with their audience before the festival gate even opens, developing targeted and intimate experiences that will build lasting memories. There is clear evidence that an evolution, albeit a slow and steady one, is underway.

The square footage of festival space in any given year is akin to a small country, and there is room for everyone to place their branded flag in a patch of land. It’s then all about how you build a community and ethos around that little piece of the musical landscape that matters. This is why pre and post event activity is so crucial when it comes to effective festival activations. The on-site activity is the big event launch pad giving brands permission to play in the music space, but it’s connecting beyond the field and developing a year round strategy that will reap the most rewards.

Music festivals are crying out for true brand pioneers. The initial gold rush for festival ground may have happened long ago, but it is those that are steadfast and capable of doing the groundwork and developing creative alignments with artists that will create a tangible legacy in the music space.

‘Field Work 2010, the definitive guide to brand activations at music festivals’ is available now, offering up an essential piece of research for anyone currently active in, or considering involvement with, music festivals in the coming year. Get your copy free with a subscription to FRUKT Source:

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