Unpredictable brands are the headline act for festival sponsorship

Brands need to think smarter about how they execute festival sponsorship to ensure a long-term relationship with the illusive millennial audience they crave to reach, says Gillian McCormack, managing director at Material.

Brands need to think harder about festival sponsorship strategies
Brands need to think harder about festival sponsorship strategies

Brands descend on music festivals to sell their wares each and every year, and from underneath the brightly coloured canopies of their branded tents or bespoke structures they hand out free products, host bands and offer up unique experiences to festival-goers, each trying to engage that elusive and advertising-adverse millennial market for a few days before they pack up and go home.

This month is prime time for brands to re-evaluate their tactical budgets and take another look at how festivals can form a core part of their 2015 strategy

That strategy simply doesn't work any more – and this month is prime time for brands to re-evaluate their tactical budgets and take another look at how festivals can form a core part of their 2015 strategy.

Emperor's New Clothes

Let's start with a marketing truth: for a while, festivals like Latitude, Secret Garden Party, and Isle of Wight were the 'Emperor's New Clothes' for many brands. As the relative gold rush for the creation of new festivals took hold they themselves became ubiquitous, and the archetypal 'brand giving away tickets with skin-deep activation' became the go-to advertising trick to get consumers to favour a brand for their gift of a paid-for weekend spent in a field.

As we know, this blanket approach to festivals fuelled by competitions and give-aways rarely did brands any favours when it came to stand out or long-term engagement unless they pulled music into an overarching strategy as O2 has done with its festival and venue ownership. Similarly, brands like Tennent’s have done this through their 21 year founding partnership with T in the Park using a long term association with music to drive both product and brand innovation. But now that the surge of new festivals and associated activity is over, it has also left many brands feeling that festivals today are perhaps yesterday's news.

The festival market has reached equilibrium

Thankfully for music-lovers the festival market itself has now reached equilibrium and the much loved unique stalwarts like Glastonbury, T in the Park, Reading and Leeds remain, while the UK's live music industry is thriving. And as long as music continues to be millennials' key passion driver, there is no better place to curate and create with this Holy Grail of audiences than when they are captivated at a festival.

Millennials by nature are advertising avoidant, rarely giving a brand the time of day in any situation unless there is a worthwhile reward on offer

Millennials by nature are advertising avoidant, rarely giving a brand the time of day in any situation unless there is a worthwhile reward on offer. But festivals create a different arena for brand interaction, where millennials actively seek out the different experiences available to them, and are far more willing engage and trade in their free time for an interesting freebie, or an amazing experience which  lets  them get their hands on that ever appreciating social currency

Hunter left their footprint all over Glastonbury in 2013 when they set up their welly-exchange, offering consumers a brand-spanking new pair of the high end brand's bright orange boots in return for people's clapped-out old clodhoppers. It was a smart move from Hunter, whose products are known for their value and long-lasting quality. They gave away more than 3,000 pairs of wellies, while the activity was amplified through social media and festival goers sharing pictures and celebrity partnerships, meaning that the campaign lived on through the national coverage it gained.

Hunter Boots and Mulberry lead

A year later, Mulberry descended on Wilderness festival with its own craft-workshop, where the brand showcased its rich heritage of handmade, high quality leather bags in its own 'Mulberry loves craft tent'. It was a space of ultimate brand engagement, where the brand took Carla Delavigne with them to launch the new range, and afterwards festival-goers were able to meet the craftsmen behind the Bayswater bag, find out how it was made, and then be given help as they customised their own leather bracelets. Unsurprisingly, they're doing the same thing again this year, with a series of workshops already planned out.

AEG and Live Nation should no longer be viewed as music promoters; they are media owners with a deep and wide range of consumer insights, databases, social communities and reach, unrivalled in the music space

There are brands that may feel nervous or lack confidence in associating with a festival and unsure of the value but they should be looking beyond that to the wider possibilities. It’s not just festivals that offer a world of opportunities to delve into; music itself provides a myriad of possibilities. AEG and Live Nation should no longer be viewed as music promoters; they are media owners with a deep and wide range of consumer insights, databases, social communities and reach, unrivalled in the music space.

Powerful engagement tool

SSE recently stepped into this area in a partnership with The SSE Hydro in Scotland, now the second busiest venue in the world, and The SSE Arena (formerly Wembley), which are both paying huge dividends for the brand through their SSE Reward programme. Music is accessible, aspirational and provides brands with a conversation piece and powerful engagement tool and brands should really bear that in mind when forming their strategies this year. 

The key point to the music and festival market is that it doesn't have to be the predictable brands that get a showing – yes, everyone likes a free ice cream or free wifi from a mobile network, but there are much wider brand partnership opportunities available based on answering an audience need. A P&G or Unilever for example could bring any of their brands or propositions to life in this arena with a key focus on strong execution that creates added value - not brand interruption. As Hunter and Mulberry have proved, any brand can take advantage of this space with a well-thought out plan to make themselves relevant for people on the day, which will then pay dividends for months to come.

Technology and targeting

If brands start applying more current techniques of behavioural targeting and customer journey mapping in and around the on-site experience and weave it meaningfully into their overall strategies, music festivals can really prove their worth by offering an unrivalled connection with the otherwise elusive millennial demographic.

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