Blog: Using festivals to build a brand

There has been a re-evaluation of the role of brands and festivals in recent years, says David Atkinson, managing partner of Space.

Experiential blog: How to use festivals to build a brand
Experiential blog: How to use festivals to build a brand

The middle of the year has always been a focus for face-to-face activity, more so with the growing status of festival culture. Around eight million people attend the UK’s 700 festivals spending £1.5 billion in the process. For many, the festival has become an alternative to a holiday.

In recent years there has also been a re-evaluation of the role of brands and festivals. Where once brands were a necessary evil to bring some additional income to let the promoter to pay for better acts, or providing functional elements such as alcohol, they can now be a more integral part of the experience.

As the festival market has mushroomed, the audience for festivals has changed radically. There is a more diverse demographic mix, tending towards the more mainstream, taking in older groups, families and more middle class festival goers. Consequently festival goers are also more affluent. 

At a time when many traditional media options are showing declining potency, festivals have emerged as an opportunity for brands to get in the faces, and hands, of their audiences. However regarding these crowds as captive and passive consumers of marketing is to misunderstand the brand/festival dynamic.

Brand resistance

Yes, festival audiences are more prepared to accept that brands have a role, but the resistance to feeling that they are being targeted remains intense. Today’s festival goer may be something of a weekend rebel, slinking back to their electrically hooked up tent between acts, but the cynicism about overt marketing is as intense as it was with any Sixties flower child.

For brands to find a space at events, they have to prove their relevance and usefulness. Fortunately most festivals are almost uniquely flexible in allowing brands free rein when it comes to creative face-to-face marketing.

Brands need to chill

To really make festival activation work, like festival goers, brands have to chill out. Being a control freak is not the best way to get the most from a festival. Work closely with organisers right from the initial planning stages. They know their audience better than anyone, and are sitting on ticket data that can provide insight for brands.

Rather than brands seeing this as unnecessary interference, they should accept that collaboration creates a better experience and a win-win for all involved. Steamrollering an event with your brand is not the way to build acceptance. Working to create an event within an event that truly adds to the festival experience, will have a great and longer lasting effect.

Space worked closely with Parklife to curate its Desperados Factory warehouse space. Both parties sat down together to create something that fit well within the overall event, but provided the brand with a stand-out property. By using the organiser’s sway with acts, Desperados was also able to attract more compelling talent.

This more strategic approach is seeing brands moving from a position of passive badging of existing assets, to creating of their own experiences and stories, driven by an increasing need to demonstrate that they are culturally relevant and connected.

One-off deals have less currency that ongoing partnerships. Two- to three-year agreements allow brands to build on their learnings and make the following year bigger and better. Desperados took its festival experience forward with Detonate, a multi-sensorial event that mixed music, graffiti, dry ice, lasers and confetti cannons to produce an amazingly memorable event.

Savvy brands are realising that festival activity like this can provide a focus for ongoing communication throughout the year. Red Bull’s Music Academy is an example with its series of workshops and concerts around the world providing a brand experience that is longer lasting.

Festivals were social before social media, but with digital options now well used, brands can amplify their message and use social to stay in touch all year round. Offering up shareable content keeps people interested in the brand beyond a few heady days in summer.

David Atkinson, managing partner, Space

More: Top brand experience agencies: Space

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