Opinion

How brands can win over the festival crowd

Demonstrating commitment to music is vital for brands at festivals, writes Ryan Newey, founding partner and creative director, Fold7.

Festivals: brands need to add to the entertainment for fans
Festivals: brands need to add to the entertainment for fans

As Glastonbury fans pull on their wellies for another weekend at the world’s greatest rock festival, mobile network Everything Everywhere will be wheeling out its Wi-Fi tractor, offering a free 4G connection to everyone within 10 metres of the vehicle as it roams the site.

The festival is a great opportunity for EE to promote its recently introduced brand name and newly launched 4G service. But the brand is well aware that the event is so much more than a simple media opportunity.

Like its sponsorship predecessor Orange, EE knows that it must add to the entertainment or end up looking like a drunken uncle at a wedding. Music fans are a demanding bunch and any brand that acts outside the rules of festival culture will be mocked or vilified. But get it right and a festival involvement is a chance to connect with the much sought-after youth audience when they are in a good mood and receptive to creativity and entertainment.

Brands need to earn their admission to music festivals by increasing the fun rather than pursuing their own narrow agendas.

Brands need to earn their admission to music festivals by increasing the fun rather than pursuing their own narrow agendas. Music fans are quick to decry brands’ festival activity as "too corporate", which implies they are insincere and involved only for selfish gain.

Festival staples such as Southern Comfort’s Juke Joints and Jagermeister’s Jager Ice Truck, are great examples of brands that become as much part of the entertainment as the performers themselves.

Simply handing out a few free samples or using the festivals as a promotional opportunity won’t cut it with fans. Above all, a brand’s presence has to be authentic, blending in with the festival scene and its hippy, alternative roots. Otherwise it will stand out like a sore thumb.

Southern Comfort’s Juke Joint is a music venue hidden in the depths of the V and The Big Chill Festivals, which attempts to recreate some of the authentic atmosphere and good times of a New Orleans bar.
Jagermeister, the herb-laced liqueur drink, takes its own truck bar to festivals and offers it as a viewing platform to watch acts on the main stage. At Download, the brand has offered fans a chance to watch bands play unplugged on the Jagermeister Acoustic stage.

Subtlety is the order of the day. Virgin and Tennants have lent their names to festivals, but without being too heavy-handed, instead calling them the V Festival and T in the Park.

Carling, by contrast, was criticised for stamping its name on the Leeds and Reading Festivals, which became known as the Carling Weekend festivals. When the brand pulled out of the sponsorship in 2007 after a decade, some thought this showed it lacked commitment to the festival ethos and reflected it in a somewhat unflattering and opportunistic light.

Strongbow has offered up-and-coming bands a chance to get a hearing under its yellow-coloured roof. Some of the bands showcased by Strongbow have gone on to greater things – Two Door Cinema Club, Modestep and Mylo, to name but a few.

If we can learn anything from this, it's that brands won't be applauded for their presence alone, even if that presence is what enables the festival to function. Although brands and agencies understand the economics of sponsorship, the average festival goer will not. Therefore, in order for a sponsorship to truly succeed, the individual's needs have to be kept front of mind.

A festival can be a great place for a newly launched brand to build up its credentials. Magners created the Crusher Bar at the Latitude Festival, which featured tribute bands and competitions. This enabled it to communicate with a new set of its prized target audience.

Brands need to take care with how they structure their involvement with public events. Visa’s partnership with the Olympics in 2012 earned it criticism when it insisted that people could only pay for tickets using Visa cards.

There’s been much talk of "festival fatigue" after a number of festivals were cancelled last year due to poor weather, struggling ticket sales and competition from the Olympics. In truth, there seem to be more festivals than there is talent to fill them. Some of the major festivals are relying on bringing back old talent
from suspended animation, such as the Rolling Stones who are playing at this year’s Glastonbury.

Nevertheless, there are hundreds of festivals held in the UK each year, attracting a largely youthful audience of over a million. They are proving an irresistible draw for brand sponsorships. But brands need to ensure they enter into festivals with the right spirit.

And if the heavens open over Glastonbury this weekend? A mud-caked swamp might seem an unlikely venue for brand building, though EE’s Wi-Fi tractor would come in handy. Even the rainiest music festival can be a great opportunity to get brand exposure with a captive audience.