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Freya Bromley

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Is Branding Ruining Music Festivals?

Posted: 08/07/2013 22:45

Does the increasingly corporate atmosphere at festivals undermine the magic that made them so attractive in the first place?

In the 1960s and 70s, when music festivals began to rise in popularity, they were predominately about rebelling against commercial and corporate ploys, and primarily focused on sentiments such as peace and love. Fast forward to 2013 and corporate promotions and branded experiences are as synonymous with music festivals as the music itself. Barclaycard British Summer Time, a luxury London event, is giving music fans throughout the capital the chance to see many of their favorite headlining artists' as the organisers cash in on the affluent audience. Consumers will accept, and even embrace, a small to moderate level of commercialisation but as events like these go overboard companies can expect attendance at festivals to decline and engagement with their brands to decrease.

Barclaycard British Summer Time is the first big event in the park since AEG Live won the tender to host concerts there, replacing Live Nation. Bon Jovi, who headlined on Friday 5th July, fuelled the row by admitting the band had turned Live Nation because of their "long-standing relationship with AEG." Musicians having partnerships in the electrical appliances industry doesn't seem very rock and roll to me, especially considering Bon Jovi charge more for their tickets than any of the living Beatles. Although artists have a right to make money from their music they also have a responsibility to the fans that have afforded them to live their dreams.

If you pay extra at Barclaycard British Summer Time you can gain access to the 'gold circle' which is an area closer to the stage than general admission, a right usually reserved for press and media. This notion of placing elitism in an audience seems ridiculous to me; it used to be common practice that the true fans would wait and queue for hours to get a good view at a concert. So why are musicians rewarding their wealthier fans whilst potentially penalising their most loyal? As Bon Jovi sang "they paid you some money to sell them my soul" in their rendition of Blood Money I couldn't help but think how relevant it really was.

It seems incredulous that musicians who made their breaks playing small town hall gigs are now aligning themselves with large corporations that charge their fans extra just because the event is sponsored by an insurance company. Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Bob Geldof have all stood in support of small-medium size festivals and I think more acts should do the same to prevent their loyal followers having to endure commercials whilst they wait to hear music and are charged extortionate prices for pints with adverts on the cups. If we stop the commercialisation of festivals then this sense of 'seasonal social tribalism' will disappear and put an end to people buying tickets for their image rather than the music. Too many teens turn up to VFestival in 'vintage' dresses from Topshop, Hunter wellington boots and denim hot pants just so they can look 'indie' in their Facebook albums.

It's clear that the positive environment of music festivals will continue to lure brands in but what does it say about our generation that we've become accustomed to being bombarded by advertisers trying to sell us payday loans on our weekends off. Whilst companies clamour to reach young customers they must remember that it's all about sponsors having a natural congruence with the festival. Placing HSBC trailers at festivals in the vague hope that someone might suddenly decide to discuss their mortgage repayments in an alcohol infused panic is tragically unrealistic. It is, however, obvious to see that beverages have a natural synergy with summer music events and 77% of festival goers believe alcohol brand advertising works best at festivals. Matthew Langley the consumer marketing manager for Brothers Cider confirmed they receive a "big blip in sales after Glastonbury. For us, the great thing is that consumers are sampling your product but they are paying for it."

It's no surprise that brands want to soak up a bit of the summer music festival atmosphere and target consumers on a mission to party. But before marketers dive into the hedonistic mosh pit they need to consider the environment they're in; consumers won't pay exorbitant festival prices to go to a shopping mall with musicians. Research groups such as that of Dr Andrew Bengry-Howell have even argued that the "all-pervasive presence of sponsorship in their everyday lives meant that the 'corporate branding' at festivals rather passed them by." Companies are spending more on their social media budgets than traditional advertising methods but I resent that by attending a music event I'm being indirectly forced to endorse a brand rather than promote bohemian values like the creators of the 'music festival' intended.

 
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