THE BLOG

How Brands Got the Festival Bug

04/02/2015 11:50 GMT | Updated 06/04/2015 10:59 BST

The days when people went to a music festival and came back with nothing more than a hangover and an STD are over. Now marketers hope that they can send them home remembering great experiences brought to them by brands who have helped make the event amazing.

Once upon a time, the idea of brands playing an active or valued role in festivals was anathema. Brands were at best something that had to be tolerated to pay for the best acts, or a functional element, such as alcohol provider.

They were there primarily to be ignored - the very epitome of 'the man'.

However in recent years there has been a re-evaluation of the role of brands and festivals. The changing nature of audiences means that festivals have gone mainstream with a greater mix of ages, more families and more of the affluent middle classes that brands love, attending. Everyone from the Prime Minister and Wayne Rooney, to your grandparents now 'do' festivals.

Around eight million people annually attend around 700 festivals in the UK spending £1.5 billion. The variety of festivals on offer - from traditional behemoths like Glastonbury and Download, to more specialised offerings covering food, literature, sport, community and family experiences - presents a huge array of self-selecting targeted segments for brands.

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.

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 weekend rebels, 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.

Nick Griffiths, director of Land of Kings in East London says the key is to establish whether there is a fit between a given brand and a festival that gives it a right to be at a certain event. "Does it contribute to the experience? Where it can often go wrong is when brands look at festivals purely as an opportunity to market to a captive audience without thinking about how they're going to enhance that."

For brands to find a space at events, they have to prove their relevance and usefulness. Festival goers now expect more than simply big name music acts. They want new and exciting experiences, which presents a golden opportunity for brands. The key is to work closely with organisers and try to identify areas where a brand experience can become an intrinsic part of the event.

For example, electrical goods brand Miele has worked with The Prisoner-inspired Festival No. 6 to bring long table banquets to the event. Chefs such as Aiden Byrne and Bryn Williams curate menus bringing festival cuisine to a level way above the traditional vegeburger and chips.

By working collaboratively with festival organisers, brands can create something really special that audiences will remember for all the right reasons.

Heineken's Desperados 'speer' (spirit beer) brand used festivals as an important element of its launch strategy. The drink has an association with good times and helping to get the party started, and aligning itself with festivals has allowed it to demonstrate this in 3D, and perhaps even in 4D, with every possible sensory experience being explored.

Using its 'In every sense' tagline, it created an immersive brand experience at Hackney's Field Day festival. The Desperados Danceroom Spectroscopy was a sensorial zone where participants were treated to a multi-sensorial, high-tech projection show complete with 360 degree visuals, citric aromatics and smoke filled bubbles. Rather than simply bringing a branded exhibition stand to Field Day, Desperados created a bespoke experience that added another dimension to the event.

Technology is also reshaping brands' place at festivals. With festival goers arriving at events packing smartphones and tablets alongside tents and sleeping bags, the opportunity to communicate directly is further enhanced, as EE's involvement with Glastonbury demonstrates.

The explosion in social media has also changed the nature of the festival experience. Brands can now communicate with an even bigger audience beyond the bounds of the festival as festival-goers share their experience with their online networks.

This also opens the opportunity to remain in contact throughout the year rather than just for the few days of the event. Offering up shareable content keeps people interested in the brand, especially if it has a long-term connection with an event. With many festivals starting to opt for RFID devices for payment and registration, festivals are increasingly awash with data that will enhance this year round opportunity for brands to engage with punters.

People often come away from great festivals with their perceptions slightly altered. The difference is that it is now brands that are doing it.