The music festival season is hotting up. Despite the recent floods across the UK, diehards are looking forward to Glastonbury this weekend, and last week, in London and Leeds, thousands of music fans convened for a more overtly commercial event: the O2 Wireless Festival.
The O2 event, featuring Daft Punk and The White Stripes, was one of the first in a plethora of branded summer music events. Music lovers can't move for festivals or one-off music events created by, or supported by, large brands.
The latest initiative to create headlines is Apple's decision to stage a month of free concerts at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts. The events, featuring 60 acts across 31 nights, will include performances from the likes of Amy Winehouse and Groove Armada. Apple then plans to make recordings of the performances available via its iTunes online store.
Apple's ICA activity is an attempt to differentiate itself further in the music download market, and is expected to work well for the brand given its strong positioning among urban music fans. The concept of a media owner (in this case, Apple is using the events to sell its content) sponsoring and launching music events at the ICA is nothing new - brands such as Kiss FM have done it in the past - but the values of the Apple brand could be the ideal fit for the ICA's 60th birthday celebrations. However, it's just one of a number of significant branded music events that will run from now until September.
1. The "daddy" of the branded music event, at least in the UK, is Tennent's T in the Park, the Glasgow music festival that launched in 1994 to promote the beer brand. It has an indie/rock feel to it and has since gained broader appeal through coverage on BBC TV, online and radio. The year after T in the Park launched, Virgin followed suit with the V Festival, held in Chelmsford and Leeds. It was initially used to promote the values of the Virgin Cola drink, but is now a vehicle for Virgin's much more successful Virgin Mobile brand. Similar to T in the Park, Virgin uses the events to reach a broader audience through broadcast coverage on Channel 4.
2. The early success of these events has prompted a glut of similar events. Carling got in on the act by becoming the headline sponsor of the Reading and Leeds festivals each August. This year, the events will be supported by ad-funded activity on Channel 4, including a programme, initiated by Carling's brand agency Cake, which follows a group of young festival-goers as they attend various events.
3. O2's Wireless Festival launched in 2005 with an estimated £20 million in costs, although the mobile phone company recouped some of this through secondary sponsorship and ticket sales. Last year, O2 expanded the festival to Harewood House in Leeds, and, having just completed this year's event, O2 intends to run it again next year, despite just signing as the sponsor of the Millennium Dome, which has been rebranded "The O2" ahead of its relaunch as a concert venue. Despite the success of the event as a branding exercise - it receives significant coverage on Channel 4 - observers note that tickets are rarely sold out. They point out that there is a perceived "uncoolness" surrounding events such as the O2 Wireless Festival, which mean that they struggle to attract the kudos of sold-out festivals such as Glastonbury and The Big Chill.
4. That said, many brands have created smaller, specially tailored events that suit the needs of their audiences. A prime example is Fruitstock, the annual festival created by Innocent three years ago to raise awareness of the brand. The event, created by Innocent and its agency Sledge, has been cancelled this year after it grew in size from 20,000 to 100,000 people and it was felt it had achieved its objectives. This year, Innocent plans to hold a series of smaller events inspired by village fetes.
5. Ben & Jerry's is staging its Sundae in the Park event again this summer, a weekend of music featuring bands such as The Proclaimers, held on Clapham Common with a family oriented feel. Mark Whelan, the creative director at Cake, the agency which helped to create Sundae in the Park, says: "There are a lot of brands just attaching their name to things without thinking through whether it's right for their brand values. With Ben & Jerry's, we've created and built an event around family brand values."
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
- Branded music events are a way for brands to talk to customers with more directness and passion than through traditional advertising. Increasingly, they are also being used as awareness tools via broadcast deals with TV stations that carry coverage of the events.
- There is a potential issue with saturation in the branded music market. Malcolm Cox, the founder of the experiential agency Lunch Communications, says: "Brands that really add something to an event, or do something more subtle, are the ones that get the most benefit."
- Consequently, brands that "add value" to the customer experience tend to far best through association with music. For instance, 118 118 has laid on small "seaside-style" trains to take people to and from stations to festival sites, and Carling has launched the "cold beer amnesty" at its festivals. This allows people to swap cans of warm lager brought in from shops for cold cans of Carling.
- More effective measurement of music activity is tempting increasing numbers of advertisers. Evaluation tends to include interviews conducted at an event combined with more traditional awareness tools. For instance, Cake was able to show through Millward Brown research that its Motorola Red Square event (featuring the Scissor Sisters playing in Trafalgar Square) raised awareness of the Motorola Red initiative. Across the weekend of the event, it doubled nationally and trebled in the South-East on the back of PR coverage and a Channel 4 broadcast viewed by 2.2 million people.