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September 30, 2009

FESTIVAL CULTURE 2:Planning your campaign

In the second of our three features on festivals, Ian Whiteling looks at the factors you need to take into account to ensure your presence is a success.

Despite the recession, live brand activity at festivals this summer remained strong. The events themselves maintained their popularity as people looked for an escape from the doom and gloom of the downturn. Meanwhile, in the face of growing competition and the need to get value from their marketing, brands continue to be keen to exploit the direct consumer engagement opportunities that festivals offer.

However, the explosion of brand activity at these summer events over recent years has made it harder to stand out. What’s more, an increasing amount festival live brand activity is falling flat, because brands are not thinking through the relevance and impact of their campaigns thoroughly enough in the rush to gain a presence.

So what factors should brands look for when considering building festival activity into their marketing strategies?

Relevance and authenticity
“You must consider whether your brand is able to build an authentic proposition that adds value to the festival experience,” says Claire Stokes, managing director of Circle Agency. “If you are going out on a limb and it doesn’t quite fit, you risk alienating the very consumer you hope to woo.”

Emphasising the point, Alison Berkani, events production director at Exposure, warns brands against simply jumping on the festival bandwagon.

“If your linking with music in general, it should truly be at the brand's roots or be able to be well rationalised,” she explains. “Rizla is a great example. This brand does an amazing job with its Invisible Players programme. It not only considers the look and feel of the environment, but also spends a lot of time in selecting the players and the line-ups for each festival, adapting them for every one that it attends.

“If music is not relevant, brands should look at other links and the types of festivals they attend. For example, there are also art-based versions, as well as other styles of festivals that may be more relevant.”


People power: Matching your brand to the audience is essential


Creativity and amplification
Beyond brand relevance, Berkani stresses the need for the experience itself to be well thought out, so as not to appear token.

“Because consumers are well educated about brands and what they consider to be either a true experience or simply a badging job, the content of the campaign has to be the priority,” she says. “Creative thinking is fundamental. It doesn’t need to be expensive, just well considered.”

To get maximum return on your festival activity spend, the campaign shouldn’t stop once the event has ended.

“Make sure you are thinking about your activation post event,” says Stokes. “Festival activity should be about building a relationship with a particular community. It should not end as soon as the mud has subsided and you have found a proper toilet. 

“Find ways of carrying on the conversation post event. If you have done your job properly on site, this should be a natural progression for consumers and the rewards for the brand are loyalty, buzz and increased return on investment.”  

Former Sledge commercial director Ian Irving agrees, adding: “In these times, return on investment is king, and if you as a marketer think that being there is enough to drive sales, then you’re wrong.

“There is life beyond live, and you must engage and amplify your festival activity or the money you spend will be worth nothing to the bottom line.”

Which festival?
Key to a successful festival campaign is also your choice of event.

“Choosing the right festival is an imperative and should be right at the heart of the strategy, or you will easily become another ‘me too’ festival player and just be considered ‘live spam’,” says Irving.

Your decision should be based on meeting your objectives and the relevance of your offering to the event and its audience.

“Obviously, the age and type of festival goer must fit your target market,” says Chris Mallindine, group account director at Closer. “The festival must fit – it has to make sense for the individual brand.”

Meanwhile, Stokes is keen to stress the different audience profiles that exist.

“The festival ‘guest’ at the Download Festival is very different to that at the V Festival,” she says, “and if you treat them all the same you are missing a trick. You should be looking to tailor your communication, so it feels authentic. Be sure you understand who is really attending and what they are all about – you may be surprised by what you find.”

Help and support
Another deciding factor for Stokes is the level at which a festival is willing to work with the brand to ensure integration into the event.

“It will become apparent pretty quickly which management companies will go the extra mile to ensure you get the full value out of your investment,” she says.

“Look at additional media opportunities on site, digital integration (remember festival websites have a huge following year round, not just in the run up to the event), programmes and guides, media opportunities, etc. In our experience, this tends to be at the festivals where we work directly with festival management/property owners and not through a third-party agency.”

Support on the ground is also important.

“Not all festivals are equipped to provide the necessary support for large scale activations, so better you find out beforehand,” cautions Stokes, “otherwise you may end up sinking in a muddy field because they haven’t supplied the necessary tracking you requested or the generator they provided is 20 years old.”

So there’s plenty to think about, but according to Irving, if your brand is relevant to both festival and audience, it’s a no brainer.

If your product, service and your target demographic are relevant to a certain festival, then why would you not consider them as part of your strategy?” he says. “They deliver captive audiences that will engage with you and your product – as long as it fits and enhances their experience.”

Coming soon, Ian Whiteling runs through a couple of the summer’s key festival campaigns.


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