Knowledge: Festival report

Handing out samples is no longer a festival activation. Instead, brands must align with the whole experience.

Rimmel and Elle's Beauty Cupboard featured at Bestival in 2015
Rimmel and Elle's Beauty Cupboard featured at Bestival in 2015

These days there seems to be a festival for every day of the week, from food and drink to cars and music, with more and more brands competing for the attention of thousands of revellers.

Event's research into 15 of the UK's leading festivals has shown that attendance doesn't necessarily correlate to the volume of activations taking place. Some of the smaller festivals such as Wilderness had a reasonable number of big brands activating over the weekend, including Volvo and Laurent-Perrier. But Glastonbury, despite its size, had few activations, in keeping with its ethos of being less commercial.

What was certainly evident was that experiential activity at music festivals was dominated by alcohol brands, with health and beauty brands also featuring highly. Twenty-six per cent of the 74 brands activating were alcohol-related, while 15% were health, beauty and fashion-related and 5% food-based.

So what is it about a festival that appeals as a location for brand activations, and how do brands stand out from the crowd?

According to Jim Robinson, managing director at Frukt, festivals provide an excellent mix of reach, engagement and credibility. "It's a time when friends create lasting memories together and brands can form part of that," he says. And the threeto four-day duration of many festivals is a chance to create a proper relationship with people. "If they like what you're giving them, they'll come back again," says Robinson.

Michael Boaler, brand manager at Jack Daniel's, says the appeal of music festivals for its activations is very simple: "You have your target audience in one place at one time, and music is a great way of getting across your brand message in a resonant way." This summer the whiskey brand went back to festivals in a much bigger way than in previous years, where it had focused only on grass roots, explains Boaler.

Pic credit: Will Ireland

"We feel it's important that music plays a physical role, curated by Jack Daniel's, as opposed to something like a chill-out zone or adding a functional benefit like phone charging. Our point of view is that the music experience is best enjoyed by watching it live," he says. "This is why we put up Jack Rocks stages showcasing new talent at the Isle of Wight festival, Boardmasters and Kendall Calling." The brand also had venue residencies at what it calls 'concrete festivals' - Jack Rocks the Great Escape in Brighton, Hackney Wonderland and SWN in Cardiff.

Henry Scotland, managing partner at Iris, adds that people both young and old still use festivals as escapism for their real lives. "This creates heightened awareness and receptivity to all experiences. If you provide good value for time, you'll be remembered," he says.

On target

With festival audiences generally comprising wide-ranging ages, backgrounds and interests, do brands attempt a catch-all approach or try to target their activations? Jack Daniel's for one focuses purely on its target market, but that's not to say it doesn't welcome newcomers. "We are an inclusive brand, so you're welcome to get involved - there's no guestlist or special code needed to get in. If you like it, great, if not, no problem," says Boaler.

He believes the most important thing a brand can do is make the experience better for festival-goers: "If they remember what you did, and/or talk about the experience positively either by word of mouth or on social, then you've had a success."

A key challenge for brands lies in ensuring they have a synergy that fits the overall identity of the festival and the attendees, says Matt Johnson, senior account director at Wasserman Experience. Collecting data on the types of people who attend which festivals is making things a bit easier for the agency.

"Festival operators have reams of data that helps to inform these decisions. For instance, we are able to find out which festivals have the highest proportion of early tech adopters, or which type of phone is most popular," notes Johnson. "So while a brand may want to be seen at the traditionally popular festivals, investment at others, where we know its target audiences attend, can be the best opportunity to build presence."

Robinson believes that understanding the audience and how they behave at festivals is the first ingredient in any activation. "Without this insight, brands risk creating something that either won't connect or could underwhelm. Creativity is vital and one of the reasons people are enticed. It's such a creative environment anyway, so attendees are in the zone and expecting to have experiences that push boundaries."

Brands need to make sure they are relevant to the audience, and that the activation is targeted to the particular festival, says Scotland. "Make sure the person conceiving the idea has actually been to that festival," he adds.

Giles Cattle, head of planning and experience at agency Crown BC, warns that brands need to earn the attention of festival-goers, rather than demand it.

"Don't consider attendance and opening hours as automatic dwell-time metrics for your activation. Your audience is time-poor due to competing attractions, and harder to engage with because they rightly demand positive, value-added experiences in exchange for their attention," he says.

Crown devised activations for Citroen and its DS brand at this summer's Goodwood Festival of Speed, including #myairbump, which aimed to bring to life a new feature of the Citroen range that prevents day-to-day wear damaging the car. Consumers could physically experience the new feature on a trampoline-style creation, while having their photograph taken in front of the stand and the latest model.


Robinson believes that although there are increasing numbers of activations at festivals, "they seem to be smaller and focused on products rather than experiences".

"So when a brand is brave enough to be more ambitious, it really sticks out," he adds. "We received a lot of attention this summer with the Jagerhaus for Jagermeister, partly because of its scale, but also because it surprised people."

With brands under ever more pressure to think creatively in a crowded and competitive space, being noticed at a festival is not as easy as it used to be, says Johnson. "Throwing a logo onto a festival poster or handing out samples just won't cut it with a young millennial consumer," he says. Instead, brands that can either offer a service that festival-goers need, or which enhances their experience, are going to stand the best chance of success.

"Festival-goers are without their everyday necessities - power sockets, clean bathrooms and comfortable seating, for example. If a brand can provide a solution to these needs that's relevant to their own products, they're onto a winner," Johnson says. Garnier, for example, provided free wash stations at Bonaroo in the US, while Wasserman has worked with Vodafone to offer free-to-use charging stations at UK festivals.

"Enhancing the experience helps brands succeed at festivals. The common goal of all festival-goers is to have fun, and if a brand can amplify this, then even better," Johnson adds. "Lucozade has been great at adopting this tactic, producing everything from silent discos to roller-skate rinks to connect with event-goers."

The use of technology is also a key factor in many of today's festival activations, driven by the fact that one in five millennials attended a music festival last year, a demographic that makes up the largest segment of smartphone owners, according to Johnson. "This has contributed to the trend of brands looking to utilise smartphone technology and social media, not only to promote and distribute content, but to connect with attendees and fans at home," he says.

Cattle believes social media has enabled brands to amplify and measure activations in ways that were impossible before, but he warns that reach and impressions do not equal brand believers.

So what types of activations does he believe are the most successful? "Ones that cater for everyone, from browsers to deep divers," he says. "Think about rewarding every interaction, however brief. And don't focus only on the immersed. You need to engage more with those who don't dwell than those who do, to amplify your brand's impact."

Case study: Desperados Detonate

Space's Desperados Detonate festival campaign took the award for Best Activation at a Festival or Public Event at this year's Event Awards.

Following deals to secure Desperados as the lead beer partner at festivals Parklife and We are Fstvl, the agency looked to create an experience that reflected how the brand was traditionally drunk by consumers - that is, when the night switches from 'good' to 'party'.

The experience featured a fan-shaped open structure that became the brand's hub on site, and featured music acts such as Friendly Fires and Mistajam. Secret 'detonate' moments were executed, including strobes, confetti, smoke bubbles and dry ice.

More than 18,000 festival-goers experienced the activation, a 120% increase on the agency's initial target.

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