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August 14, 2007

FESTIVAL SEASON: The effect of summer event sponsorship

These days, summer is all about festivals. Going to such events is becoming one of the most popular British pastimes. So much so that leisure retailers like Blacks enjoy a major seasonal sales spike when the weather starts to get warmer, if not particularly drier. And it’s no longer just about music. Many festivals feature comedy, cabaret and even literature – yes, we’re talking a new and growing cultural phenomenon.

Summer festivals are also attracting sponsorship from brands looking to engage more effectively with customers, particularly the 18-to-25 age group, who are notoriously difficult to reach and win over. But what do these festival goers think about big brands invading their prime leisure time in this way?

“Youth culture is becoming interesting again,” says Victoria Biggs, business director at live marketing agency Out of the Blue (OOTB). “We wanted to delve deeper to understand it better. Lots of brands talk about wanting to be at festivals, but little has been done to understand the impact on festival goers and their response to the activity.”

To remedy this, last year OOTB carried out 20 filmed interviews and received over 250 completed questionnaires from festival goers at the V-festival in Weston Super Mere and Stafford, the Carling Weekender in Reading and the Global Gathering and Rip Curl Board Master event, both held in the South West. The age range of the sample was unsurprising, with 65% aged 18 to 25, 32% over 25 and just 3% under 18. Meanwhile, the gender split was 57%/43%, male/female.

Under the skin
Simply from the point of view of getting into the mindset of youth culture, it proved to be an interesting study. Around 70% of respondents said they intended to vote in the next general election, with most saying they’d choose Labour, and with health and the environment the most pressing issues.

From a lifestyle perspective, most of the festival goers sampled had a highly active social life, with most going to the pub more than once a week, visiting clubs once a week and attending gigs either more than once a week or once a month.

Health and violence were seen as the biggest problems to society by a group that preferred indie, dance and rock above other music genres, and which predominantly (70%) listened to Radio One, with indie music station XFM coming a not-very-close second (20%). What’s more, this group is clearly highly active online, with 70% saying they downloaded music, compared to 80% that bought CDs.

Under the influence

Summing up, festival goers are not only youthful, but also appear politically and socially motivated, with strong opinions, while also being a highly cultural and social group that’s very internet literate – just the audience profile that so many brands want to reach. But is sponsoring a festival the right way to reach them, or will they view this as simply a cynical ploy?

Well, according to OOTB’s research, 75% of festival goers said they notice if brands sponsor or get involved with an event that they’re attending. But are associations generally positive or negative?

Most respondents thought that the festival experience reflected positively or had no effect on a sponsor with very few thinking it damaged a brand. In fact, more than 75% of festival goers polled thought event sponsorship was a good way of getting a brand in front of young people, with almost 50% saying they considered it to be a good way of becoming associated with youth culture. A smaller, but still significant number thought a festival was a “cool place” for a brand to be seen and that this made the brand feed cutting edge.

OOTB also monitored the festival effect on its sample audience’s opinion of brands. When asked if they had seen a brand at or associated it with the festival they were attending, Virgin’s recognition level rose from over 50% to more than 80% at an event where it was principal sponsor, while Nokia’s rose from just over 20% to more than 50%. Similarly, more festival goers believed that Virgin understood youth culture and said they would recommend the brand when it was the prime event sponsor.

No wonder festival sponsorship is on the increase.

Over the next week or so, EVENTS:review will look at how to approach festival sponsorship, recent examples of successful campaigns, the new phenomenon of brand-funded festivals targeting more than just young people.

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