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September 30, 2009

FESTIVAL CULTURE:How has the recession hit this summer’s brand-fests?

In the first in a series of features looking back at this year’s festival season, Ian Whiteling considers the effect the downturn has had on live brand activity at this summer’s events.

As autumn begins and the nights get shorter, another hectic festival season ends, drawing the summer of love to a close not just for the revellers, but also for the large number of brands that have targeted these events as a highly effective way of engaging with key audiences.

Growing demand from the general public, together with a rich revenue source from companies desperate to gain a presence for their brands, has resulted in an explosion of summer festival activity in recent years.

Boom or bust?
Companies are also thinking up increasingly creative and innovative ways to engage with festival goers. But with the recession biting hard, would this year mark an end of the festival brand boom time? Not according to Claire Stokes, managing director of Circle Agency.


Total recall: Virgin tops the list for brands making their
mark on consumers in the festival scene


“In our experience, there hasn’t been a drop of brand activation at festivals, and this may be because the ones we have chosen to support are generally providing additional help and are compromising on-site fees to ensure that brands are still able to attend. 

“Those that haven’t been as accommodating may be suffering more. 

“We have noticed that some of the larger-scale activations that are normally commonplace have been somewhat scaled down, yet that is probably to be expected. 

Although there were some festivals cancelled this year, Exposure’s events production director Alison Berkani believes this was more down to over supply than economic uncertainty.

“Festivals offer people a place to have fun, relax and escape, which is even more important in times of recession,” she says.

Relevance is the key
Meanwhile, Ian Irving, former commercial director at Sledge, puts  any decline in festival brand activity down more  to rationalisation than desertion.

“I believe brands aren’t so much withdrawing, as being less frivolous about their choice of festival. It appears that the ‘build it, brand it and they will come’ approach is a thing of the past and rightly so,” he says.

Irving’s point here is that festivals and campaigns suffer from gratuitous and inappropriate delivery.

“I’m an advocate of the collaboration of brands and music and other festival content, as long as it is an enhancement of the experience, not a distraction or interruption,” he explains.

“The last season of festivals really started to show signs of brands trying to totally interrupt the experience. One such example was the inclusion of a skate half pipe provided by an energy drink during a wet Wireless festival in 2008. It was of no value to any of the punters and it was in fact closed for the majority of the event.

“This year’s Wireless was as good brandless from an experience point of view, and it was really noticeable,” Irving continues. “But I’m not sure that the lack of branding at this festival was down to the recession.

“This year’s Lovebox, the following month, was saturated with brand activity and it didn’t have a negative impact. The fact that there were so many brands there actually worked. The experiences really enhanced the event and the punters were all over the brand spaces I visited.”

Cashing in
Target Media’s trading director Adam Hopkinson believes that, as festivals have grown in popularity, there has been a rush by brands to cash in without thinking clearly about the audience or the medium. Perhaps Irving’s observations suggest this is starting to change, as brands seek more value from their marketing and are, therefore, thinking more carefully about their festival activity.

“Underwear brand Sloggi came under fire for an out of place fashion show at Glastonbury in 2008,” recalls Hopkinson. “No one understood it. It was cashing in on an affluent audience but got it wrong. There could be scope for an underwear brand to get it right at festivals, but a fashion show would never work.”

Research from Target Media suggests that festivals certainly offer a fertile environment for brands to get their message across. The company, which spoke to 2000 festival goers as part of its surveyed, indicated that people's mindset is perfect for absorbing relevant marketing messages when they are at a festival.

“This is because they tend to be inquisitive,” says Hopkinson. “In the festival environment, all their senses are alert and they have a high emotional engagement with their surroundings.

“Festival goers go along to create memories, so advertising messages that fit with the event will become part of these memories. Expectation mixed with attention, emotion and memory creation delivers an optimal advertising environment.”
Spotting trends
Some 40% of the revellers surveyed by Target Media agreed that they have positive feelings towards the brands that advertise at and sponsor music festivals. Furthermore, 39% of festival goers strongly agree that adverts at festivals fit better with the rest of the experience than elsewhere, revealing the general high quality of festival brand experiences, despite the couple of exceptions cited earlier.

Key trends were also identified by the survey, with alcohol and fashion brands being shown to have the greatest marketing potential at festivals. Meanwhile, there was least interest in the marketing of household products, financial services, travel and cosmetics brands. In fact, in a brand recall test, the top results were Virgin, Carling, O2, Orange, Strongbow, Bacardi and Vodafone.

So the market certainly appears to be there, and Circle Agency’s Stokes reports that demand from brands remains high. But the key to success is relevance and creativity.

“We are consistently seeing an increase in brands that want to activate in this space, and when it is done well, they are seeing the value of experiential,” she says.

“Recession or not, agencies are proving that the results justify the return on investment, and so this year more than ever, it is all about coming up with the strongest experience strategy and ensuring that we choose the best-suited festival for the brand.”

Over the coming weeks, MEETINGS:review will look at how to choose the right festival and examples of some of best campaigns.



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