YOUTH MEDIA: MUSIC IS THE MEDIUM - Successful event sponsorship comes down to more than simply taking advantage of a captive audience, Michele Martin discovers

Things are changing in the world of sponsored music events. After four boom years when advertisers were happy to stick their names on any large event, companies are now becoming more thoughtful about how they spend money. They have been forced into a rethink by a heady mixture of poor attendances and a string of corporate humiliations for big-name sponsors.

Things are changing in the world of sponsored music events. After

four boom years when advertisers were happy to stick their names on any

large event, companies are now becoming more thoughtful about how they

spend money. They have been forced into a rethink by a heady mixture of

poor attendances and a string of corporate humiliations for big-name


It was not a vintage year for outdoor music festivals in Britain. Quite

apart from the atrocious weather, several never even got past the

planning stage, with the Phoenix Festival, Universe ’98 and Gay Pride

all being axed. For music fans the loss was sad, but for marketers it

was downright puzzling. For several years, festivals were seen as the

ideal way of targeting the elusive youth market, attracting sponsors

such as Midland Bank, Carlsberg, Virgin, Tennent’s and Coca-Cola. And

yet suddenly, there were too many festivals to soak up demand from

either festival-goers or backers.

Last year, Lilt was slammed for smothering the Notting Hill Carnival in

too much branding while Carlsberg’s huge music event was criticised,

ironically, for serving warm, unsubsidised beer. Meanwhile, the Midland

Bank’s 18-day Midland ’97 pop extravaganza at Battersea Power Station

last December was so poorly attended that the bank waived ticket


Yet advertisers do not want to drop sponsorship of music events


They are an excellent way of reaching 16- to 30-year-olds, who are

media-literate, cynical, but respond well to subtle, involving messages.

And catching them while relaxing at a gig can be a highly effective

strategy, according to the rolling youth survey, ROAR, commissioned by

companies such as Kiss FM, Channel 4 and BMP DDB. Last year, it

discovered that 50 per cent of young people felt better about a company

which had sponsored something they were interested in.

Unfortunately, the research also discovered that too many sponsors were

perceived to have got it wrong by ’exploiting’ the medium. A massive 48

per cent of those questioned felt sponsors often attached themselves to

inappropriate events. It is mistakes such as these that companies now

want to avoid - although to do so, they may have to rethink many of

their basic principles.

Matt Williams, the managing director of the music event marketing

company, Making Waves, says: ’A lot of sponsors feel that if they do a

party for 20,000 people, give out some samples and put up a few banners,

they’ve covered off the youth market. But they haven’t. It’s lazy and,

of course, people see through it.’ Ian Ferguson, the chief executive of

the marketing communications company, KLP, agrees: ’These kind of events

only work when you pull off the unobvious. If something doesn’t work,

they’ll spot it a mile off and you can find yourself ridiculed very


Fortunately, such professional advice appears to be having an effect and

many companies are reviewing their activities for the next year. Two

schools of thought are emerging. At one end, companies are increasingly

thinking about exclusive branded events, launched entirely by them and

for them. Tennent’s led the way in 1994 with help from KLP by launching

Scotland’s first outdoor music event, T in the Park, and Virgin has

since masterminded V96, 97 and 98.

These events get extra brownie points for creating something original,

according to ROAR, which shows that Tennent’s and Virgin both rate more

highly than many other sponsors. Williams observes: ’This will be a

natural progression for companies who don’t want to compete with other

brands at events.’

At the other end of the scale, companies are turning their backs on

headline sponsorship of any kind in favour of more grass-roots activity.

Geoff Glendenning now runs his own integrated marketing company, Third

Planet, but was the head of marketing at Sony until last November. He

was responsible for Playstation sponsoring the Tribal Gathering and Big

Love concerts in 1996 and 1997 and says that experience has taught him

to do things differently.

He explains: ’We went in on a straight sponsorship package, but you

realise pretty quickly that you can achieve as much as a co-sponsor as

you can as a headline sponsor.’ Playstation now spends much of its music

sponsorship budget on hands-on festival activities, including temporary

games centres.

This kind of comment is a vindication of companies such as Levi’s, which

has sponsored music at grass roots for a decade, working with Making

Waves since 1991. Its budget of hundreds of thousands of pounds is

visible only to those who watch live music in pubs and small venues, but

proves Levi’s ’integrity’ to a young audience. Williams says: ’We work

with record companies to find up-and-coming bands and even if that means

only 200 people see us, it builds our credibility. People see through

companies that latch on to big bands.’ But for companies who do still

want to ’latch on to big bands’, there are several basic maxims that can

make their events more successful. Ferguson is perhaps more entitled

than most to say that a good sponsor ’adds something, rather than just

taking advantage of a large crowd’.

At T in the Park, for example, branding was kept subtle to reinforce

this belief, with no free samples or T-shirts handed out and minimum use

of the Tennent’s name, (although the toilets were called ’T-pees’ in

keeping with the subliminal qualities of the event’s title). Most

importantly, however, the event was flagged in the months leading up to

it, with PR, on-pack promotions and other initiatives. Ferguson believes

that this warming-up process is crucial to any event, since it tells

people that the company concerned is not just in it for the short


But Ferguson’s best tip for getting music event sponsorship right in the

future is something far more basic. He believes that the real winners

will not be those companies that refine the old formula, but those who

try something new. Because, as he concludes: ’There’s no room out there

for brands to copy what’s already been done. But I know there are the

opportunities to do something new.’

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