Festival season 2018: how to get ahead of the pack this summer

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Maximise marketing opportunities at festivals this summer / Matty Adame

Back in the fading sunshine of summer, festivals dominated conversations across the country as millions shelled out on festival tickets and posted their experiences across social media.

However, our Connecting in Culture report for 2017 revealed that brands aren’t playing an important role in the summer festival experience. The complex and varied festival landscape of today means that there is now something out there for absolutely everyone, ranging from camping festivals to city centre day festivals, high tempo to low tempo, metal music to classical, and everything in between. This landscape has made it increasingly difficult for brands to connect across these different contexts; brands this year struggled once again to truly connect with festival goers and make the most of festival opportunities, despite high investment.

These are our top tips to help brands better maximise their festival sponsorship and activation budgets.

Consider the full festival journey

Too often brands focus on just a physical activation at a festival by offering a lack lustre social media ticket giveaway competition beforehand, and so fail to consider other touchpoints along the festival journey. A festival for a consumer spans much further than just the main weekend experience – it starts with the excitement and discussion once the line-up is announced, then playlist creation and discovery, before outfit and glitter prepping, journeys to and from the festival, sharing memories after the festival and of course the watching of the after movie (the Tomorrowland Aftermovies have received tens and even hundreds of millions of views on YouTube!)

There is a massive opportunity for brands to tap into and even takeover these other festival touchpoints. Benefit did an amazing job this year of intercepting festival goers on the journey to Glastonbury with its free Glastonbrow drive-thru wax and beauty bar near the festival site, and they weren’t even official sponsors. Budweiser once again did an amazing job at building a wider campaign around its Tomorrowland sponsorship this year, in order to maximise its return on investment and enhance its reputation as a festival sponsor. It built up anticipation before the festival began with its ‘Road to Tomorrowland’ campaign that included elements such as a three week long series of electronic music events. By looking beyond the ticket giveaway, brands can better connect with festival goers throughout their experience.

Less branded homes, more fun and flexibility

Many brands have fallen into a trap of following a set festival activation formula – creating a branded home that seeks to entice festival goers in, to learn about the brand, engage with the brand and then share their experience. Desperados Clubhouse, Pepsi Max’s Love it Lounge, JagerHaus, Malibu’s Rum Beach House and Strongbow Yard are all examples of brands who followed this activation trend this year. Some of these activations had the talent and scale necessary to attract consumers in and therefore away from the other acts and entertainment. However, such a serious and static approach is not indicative of spontaneous and brave consumer festival behaviour; they are seeking to let their hair down and gain a sense of escapism.

There is an untapped opportunity for brands to create surprising and playful experiences that are unexpected. A surprise and delight mechanic could harness the power of social listening to identify festival highs and become part of those moments by raising the tempo further, or work to turn low-lights (eg queues, toilets, rain) into highlights, instead of being cemented to one place on site with a fixed and inflexible experience.

This flexible approach particularly lends itself to fun activities which draw on the trend of adult play. Imagine if you were the brand that turned the annoying festival rain into an epic water fight experience…

Cut through the noise

Many brands are missing a trick with their fleeting one-off festival activations or short-term sponsorship deals, as they are never able to become an essential component of that festival. Brands that consistently play an important role within the same festival over several years give themselves authority in the eyes of festival goers by weaving themselves into the fabric of that festival. Pepsi Max has hosted the second biggest stage at Wireless for several years now and it has become famous over time for quirks such as announcing the stage host. Similarly, the Virgin Trains stage has become one of the hidden gems at Festival Number 6.

Another approach that brands have increasingly started to take in order to bypass the challenge of competing for festival goer attention has been to create their own branded festivals. The main challenge with these festivals then becomes about growing their fame, instead of trying to grow your fame within an existing framework. The Waitrose Summer Festival, North Face Mountain Festival, Absolut Midsommar Weekender and Krug's Into the Wild Festival are a few of several examples of recent additions to the festival calendar.

Piggyback macro and micro festival trends

This festival season saw a number of conversation macro-trends across the festival landscape, including the likes of glitter, festival outfits, the importance of the campsite and the ever crucial headline artist debate. These offer brands conversation opportunities to piggyback on, as well as insights into festival behaviour that could help dictate activations, ensuring brands create something meaningful which would help make smaller budgets go further.

There are also individual festival micro-trends. These nuances offer the chance for hyper relevant branded festival activity – the theatrical nature of BoomTown or Bestival’s penchant for creating world record sized experiences (world’s biggest bouncy castle, confetti cannon and disco ball) present unique opportunities for brands. This kind of thinking will help brands think more about their context, hence opening the door for the creation of more compelling ideas that finally start to make brands a part of the festival conversation.

You can download the full Connecting in Culture: Summer Festival report here.

Tom Shipman is strategist at creative agency RPM.

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