Mountains not M-Cat: Why The North Face is taking 500 consumers up the Eiger to carve out its brand identity

This September, outdoor retail brand The North Face will welcome around 500 explorers from across Europe to Lauterbrunnen in the Swiss Alps for the brand's first ever Mountain Festival.

The three-day event has been proclaimed 'The ultimate weekend of adventure in nature's greatest playground'. For €99, festival-goers will be able to experience the ultimate in 'outdoorsy' activities, such as mountain trail running, rock climbing and paragliding.

A 'geodesic' banqueting hall' and in-forest spa are also on the cards, and The North Face will even take the more experienced mountaineers on a summit exhibition up the Eiger. But, senior brand marketing manager Giorgio Saviane insists - isn't a sales exercise for the brand.

"We are not planning to sell merchandise at the event, although there will be testing opportunities," Saviane told The Drum. "Instead we will be tracking participation, and the reach and engagement generated from the content created for the festival. Overall media coverage and various social metrics are also primary targets for us, as well as surveys to measure consumer satisfaction."

The North Face Mountain Festival was part-founded last year in a different guise. The Nightray Outdoor Festival took place across two days at The Gorges du Verdon in France, and offered attendees similar activities. Saviane explained: "We learnt that the concept of bringing different activities together in one place has potential to live beyond one night – we simply didn't have enough time for everything we wanted to do. Therefore we evolved the concept and the format to bring an even bigger and more rounded experience to our consumers."

While costs will no doubt be recouped with ticket sales, it's undoubtedly a big investment for the brand – a festival in a mountain range does not come pre-loaded with thankless sunshine, flat surfaces for stand builds and a space for 'glamping' toilet facilities.

But creating a traditional festival experience, and adding brand sponsorship and materials at the final stages, is not what this campaign is about. "We have an ambition to inspire people to live a life of exploration and this event will give the opportunity to express this at its best," said Saviane. "The event aims to capture what we represent as a brand."

Perhaps rather more by accident and less by design, the festival's concept is perfectly ripe for the millennial crowd, if we're to believe those under 30 are all obsessed with healthy living. It's hard to picture dodgy drug deals and copious bottles of Scrumpy Jack at Mountain Festival – instead guests will push their fitness levels and sample gourmet expedition cookery. Is this a concept we're going to be seeing more of in the future as the millennial generation ups its spending power?

"We hope so," said Saviane. "It is something new and different to the market, which we believe fits with the millennial generation and everybody else who wants are looking to take on a different experience this summer."

And unlike Innocent's similarly 'off the grid" festival that banned the use of technology, the millennial crowd will also be allowed to tweet, snap and Instagram their experience, phone signal permitting.

"The weekend will be full of adventure and activities, which will help participants ‘disconnect’ and not think about their emails and everyday business," Saviane said.

"However, we will obviously be capturing and sharing the experience and the location through social to help amplification and will encourage others to do so."

Katie Deighton

Katie Deighton is The Drum’s senior reporter - creative and video based in London. She produces, films, presents and edits the title’s editorial video output, including series such as On The Scene, Ad Breakers and Why I Left Advertising, and manages its coverage of the creative sector. She also reports on the intersection between politics and marketing, as well as the third sector and fashion.

All by Katie