The festival experience

The weather may have been changeable this summer, but UK consumers' - and thus marketers' - love affair with outdoor music events shows no sign of flagging, writes Nicola Clark.

The festival experience

While consumers have shown their willingness to trade down, cut back and embrace a more frugal lifestyle following the recession, the position of music festivals at the heart of the UK summer appears to have been unaffected.

Indeed, the enthusiasm shown for outdoor music events - from advertisers as well as festival-goers and performers, seems to be growing. All the tickets for this year's V Festival were snapped up less than two hours after they were placed on sale.

It was a similar story for Glastonbury: on-line forums were awash with desperate pleas from disappointed music fans after tickets sold out in just 15 hours. This was despite a £10 increase in the price, with full weekend tickets costing £185.

Marketing activity continued to centre predominantly on alcohol brands, which use festivals to drive both product awareness and significant volume sales. However, advertisers from sectors as diverse as charities and self-tanning were also present. High-end brands such as MAC and St Tropez made their mark this summer, reflecting the increasingly upmarket audience of 'glamping' festival-goers.

Suffice to say, then, that from the high-fashion kitsch of Vintage Goodwood to the hippy roots of Glastonbury, there has been a vast array of brand activity over the past 12 months. Here we showcase some of the best.


Monkey Shoulder whisky, which is attempting to introduce the drink to a younger audience and change their perceptions of it, made its second appearance at the Big Chill fest-ival this year.

While the William Grant-owned brand continued to use its Monkey Shoulder Tree House bar, which is constructed from old whisky vats and casks, it also introduced a greater level of experiential activity in the bar area to make the venue a more compelling destination.

It increased the amount of music played there and worked with urban artists, the Graffiti Kings, to allow visitors to spray and stencil their own Monkey-themed T-shirts.

Visitors were also given the chance to sample whisky cocktails, such as the Monkey Mai Tai and Show Me The Monkey, in a bid to introduce them to whisky - a drink not usually associated with young people or music festivals.

Tom Wade, brand manager at Monkey Shoulder, explains: 'Our sole aim is to introduce Scotch whisky to a new audience. However, a great product with eye-catching packaging is not enough. Many consumers have perceptions about whisky - its taste, its image, and who drinks it - that are ripe for change with the right activation.'

According to Wade, the event was a success, with more than 6000 drinks served during the festival. Anecdotal evidence from forums, blog posts and tweets also suggested that the Monkey Shoulder Tree House was, for many, a highlight of The Big Chill.


To promote its SingStar music video game, Sony Computer Entertainment UK (SCEUK) ran its first full-blown arena at a festival site.

Its 'Cocktails and Dreams' experiential venue, which was unveiled in June at the Glastonbury festival, was designed both as a daytime retreat for revellers and a night-time party venue.

Created and managed by Iris Experience, it consisted of a 600-person capacity structure with a retractable roof - the first time such a bespoke structure had been built for a UK site - which was hand-painted by scenic artists.

Cocktails and Dreams was designed to allow visitors to have their own SingStar moment with their friends in one of the venue's private booths. The best performers were then invited by a host to perform on the main stage, along with artists such as Vanilla Ice and Belinda Carlisle, who have experienced a revival in popularity via SingStar.

Festival-goers could buy drinks at a Havana Club cocktail bar, while the musical entertainment was supplemented by the Cuban Brothers comedy characters and the presence of celebrities such as Kate Moss, Emma Watson and The Clash's Mick Jones.

Iris Experience claims that the venue was full to capacity from midnight to 3am on the Wednesday to the Sunday of the Glastonbury Festival.

SCEUK marketing director Alan Duncan says that the company has had a brand presence at festivals for more than 15 years as they were 'fun, vibrant and social', adding that the activity this year was designed to amplify these values.

Henry Scotland, joint managing director of Iris Experience adds: 'This unique piece of activity had a winning combination of factors working together to make it a favourite with punters. The lighthearted vibe meant it became the place for hanging out during the day, before hosting some of the best parties on site in the evening, with visitors able to have their SingStar moment in the limelight on the main stage or opt for a private booth with mates. Whether the roof was open or closed, it was a constant hive of activity and a great physical manifestation of the brand.'

The ambitious event was the culmination of a wider six-month 'Sing for your Summer' campaign that challenged users to sing for their chance to win SingStar and festival-related prizes. The focus of the activity was 'surprising social challenges' based on the singforyoursummer.com website and a SingStar stage that travelled to Guilty Pleasures vintage pop theme nights in Manchester and London in the run-up to the Glastonbury Festival.

The SingStar structure also travelled to Camp Bestival in July and will be at Bestival on the Isle of Wight this weekend.


The V Festival may be criticised for being one of the more corporate of the summer's outdoor music events, but for many advertisers, it is also one of the most attractive.

This year brands including MAC make-up and St Tropez self-tanning partnered Virgin Media's Louder Lounge VIP area. MAC created a range of looks specifically for the V Festival, with a team of make-up artists on hand to allow guests to try these out. The activity gained exposure for the brand across a range of fashion and beauty publications.

The Louder Lounge area also tied up with Somerset catering company Field and Flower, which provided evening meals.

According to Michael White, managing director of experiential agency Itch, which created and ran the venue, Louder Lounge is a PR-driven project. 'This year we had celebrities including Drew Barrymore and Richard Branson,' he says. 'As we only have three photographers in the area it is a relaxed environment and has that celebrity pull.' As a result, Virgin Media benefited from substantial coverage in the specialist and national press as celebrities showcased their festival style in the VIP area.

In addition, the festival and the Louder Lounge gained more coverage online with a dedicated Twitter feed.

Itch has been responsible for the Louder Lounge area for the past six years and the branded VIP area has quickly become a mainstay of the festival circuit. The agency is now approached by many brands seeking to gain exposure through creating an area or experience in the Lounge.

This year Itch extended Virgin Media's brand presence across the festival site with additional product demonstrations, as well as providing wi-fi, which allowed consumers to gain a more tangible experience of the brand.

Commenting on its long association with the event, a spokeswoman for Virgin Media, says there are no plans to end the partnership in the near future. 'We've just celebrated the 15th year at the V Festival and our customers, partners and entire team absolutely love it,' she adds. 'It's a hugely successful sponsorship; we remain committed to it and to ensuring that we keep adding something special, such as this year's Mansion, with a full line-up of DJs, super-fast broadband and a refreshingly chilled garden experience.'

- The festival season is far from over and there will certainly be further examples of excellent brand activation over the coming weeks. With research from IPC showing that 69% of 16- to 34-year-old men list going to live music events as their top leisure activity - ahead of football matches - it is easy to see why festivals have quickly become a lynchpin of marketing for many advertisers. With this in mind, Marketing and Brand Republic have partnered with the Festival Awards to support this year's Best Sponsor Activation category. This will open for entries from brands and agencies from September 15 via Brand Republic and the winner will be announced at the awards ceremony on 18 November at the British Music Experience, in London's The O2.


This year’s Glastonbury ended up being somewhat of a classic, if only for the fact that revellers attending the festival’s 40th anniversary event spent six days drenched in nothing but sunshine.

Acts like Muse, Stevie Wonder and Snoop Dogg ensured Glastonbury remained a step ahead of the standard festival circuit, while the ever-evolving late-night areas like The Park, Block9 and Shangri-La gave it more of a 24-hour feel than you can find elsewhere. Yet for all the innovation, nothing makes the long-drop toilets and endless walking more tolerable than the ability to leave your wellies behind.

That said, Glasto is not without its growing pains. For those like me who chose not to arrive at the crack of dawn on the Wednesday morning, the only thing more appalling than the entry queues was the difficulty involved in finding a spot to pitch up the tent.

When compared to the brand-friendly environs of events like V Festival, Glastonbury does retain a cultish mystique which makes it tougher for marketers to approach. Be it due to the festival’s hippy roots, or the Arthurian tales linking the mythical ancient king to this part of Somerset, Glasto-goers are very quick to moan at what they see as ‘selling out’ to the corporate world.

However, thanks in part to Jaz-Z’s seminal headline performance in 2008, with each passing year the festival crowd also becomes less bohemian and more mainstream, attracting ever-greater numbers of annoying school children enjoying their first freedom from mum and dad. As a result, there has been an inevitable encroachment by brands eyeing up a captive audience of 180,000 consumers.

You get the feeling that some brands will never be welcome – the Nestlés, Coca Colas and McDonald’s of this world would feel incongruous at Glastonbury. Others, like local cider brand Brothers, have wormed their way into the affections of a tough crowd, almost by positioning itself a drink which consumers 'discovered' at Glastonbury and welcome back like an old friend.

Booze brands do admittedly find it easier than most to connect with festival-goers intent on a good time, and Tuborg and Gaymers have upped their respective games with more inventive branded tents. Of the UK’s larger corporate brands, Orange are probably held in the greatest affection, with its expanding Chill 'N' Charge tent now an essential stop-off point for the Twitter and Facebook-addicts among us.

Another mark of Glastonbury’s move towards the mainstream was this year’s arrival of PlayStation’s remarkably popular ‘Cocktails & Dreams’ karaoke bar, allowing the aforementioned 15-year-old girls the chance to ditch live music acts in favour of a quick rendition of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’ or Duffy’s ‘Mercy’. Each to their own, I suppose.

Glasto will undoubtedly continue to become more brand-friendly, which is almost a shame for those of us who enjoy its more eccentric charm. But despite any such quibbles, it still remains a king amongst UK music festivals, and will do for some time to come.