Turn Down For What? How Music Festivals and Brands are Partnering to Create Experiences that Rock

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How do you get 90,000 people to willingly travel to places like rural Tennessee or a desert in California and camp and sleep in tents in the middle of the scorching summer heat? By partnering with amazing brands and customers to create an unforgettable experience, with elite musical and artistic talent from around the world.

Large music and art festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and Austin City Limits have become these unforgettable experiences; and people, especially the younger ones, have fully embraced festivals as a rite of passage while at the same time remaining loyal customers to the brands that sponsor them.

Around 32 million people attend at least one U.S. music festival each year, and Nielsen data shows that close to 50% are from the Gen Z and younger millennial generations. For large promotion companies like Live Nation and AEG Live – respectively, the world’s first and second largest live entertainment promoters – not only has this generated millions of dollars in ticket sale revenue, but it has also become a great opportunity for brands to expand their reach to younger, socially influential, and highly sought-after audiences. “Festivals reflect how fans are consuming music in a digital world,” AEG Live CEO Jay Marciano tells The Wall Street Journal. “It’s immersive, it’s sampling and it’s being done in a social way.”

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Strategic brand partnerships that are, first, in line with a festival’s core ethos, and, second, add tangible value to the fan experience, are becoming extremely helpful in developing and communicating a festival’s own distinct brand. As Mike Raspatello, manager, digital innovation and strategy, at Anheuser-Busch explains to Adweek, “Fans are asking, ‘What did you do for me?’ There’s a higher expectation of what a brand will bring to a festival. You want them to be glad you’re there.”

Coachella, for instance, has become synonymous with “festival fashion.” It’s a three-day-long catwalk in the California desert; a chance for young music fans and celebrities to flaunt their inner hippie by donning flowy, boho-chic frocks, fringe, and flower crowns. H&M capitalized on this trend by partnering with Coachella to create a clothing line sold in stores and at a pop-up shop on site at the festival. As the exclusive clothing partner, H&M was even able to use Coachella’s strengthening brand in its own marketing and ad campaigns.

Another example comes from an interview with one of the co-founders of Bonnaroo, Rich Goodstone. He highlights an engaging and effective campaign the festival ran in partnership with Ford and Spotify:

Probably one of the best programs in 2012 or any year was our RFID that we built out with Ford. So basically, everybody who comes to the festival gets an RFID wristband. It’s their ticket, so they can register it online. It’s got a chip in it, so we understand when they’re coming into the festival site. It allows us traffic and logistical management. People could register them online, be entered to win a Ford vehicle, and also be able to attach that RFID to Facebook. Through a partnership with Spotify, after the event, we were able to send you a full set list from that show. To have that journal all in one place, all of it branded with Ford…[made for] 200 million impressions, 2 million likes and comments.

Not only can these brands add value to the festival experience in-person, they’re also adding value for people who can’t make it to the festival. Brands like 7UP, Yahoo!, and Red Bull livestream performances of the most popular artists, connecting fans and expanding the reach of the event beyond festival grounds (mud and rain not included). “Being on the ground and launching special product demonstrates to fans that we’re part of the culture,” 7UP’s director of marketing, Eric Blackwood, also tells Adweek. “And the livestream allows us to take it to a much larger scale – millions rather than a few hundred thousand.”

By using technology and social media – two things younger audiences love – to not only promote and distribute content, but to connect festival attendees with fans at home, both festivals and brands are able to continue to add value and keep the conversation going once the tents have been packed up.

With this year’s festival season wrapping up, the show still goes on. Endless content, constant feedback, and ongoing fan interaction are helping major music festivals improve their experience throughout the year. And, with fans’ festival expectations met or exceeded this year, the anticipation for next year is always there. For both die-hard and potential new festivalgoers, festival promoters, and the brands that are constantly thinking outside of the box, the opportunity for growth is limitless.


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