'You don’t constantly have to prove ROI': Innocent reveals business case for hosting free festival where social media is banned

A free-to-attend event for 1,500 people, who are blocked from accessing WiFi and discouraged from sharing the experience on social media – not exactly a commercially viable proposition on paper. Yet in less than two weeks Innocent will be hosting its first ‘Unplugged’ Festival.

The festival is taking people “off-the-grid”, asking attendees to leave technology at home for a weekend. No Wi-Fi, no 3G and no traditional electricity – all power will be generated by the sun or people playgrounds with bicycles, hamster wheels, roundabouts and seesaws.

As well as live music there will be talks from the likes of the School of Life's mindfulness expert, a wood-fired spa, a banquet hall, and foraging expeditions.

“Everyone lives their life through a screen. The audience is more interested in Instagramming an event than taking part in it. So wouldn’t it be nice if everyone could leave that behind,” Jamie Sterry, Innocent’s brand activation manager tells The Drum.

“That’s where the original idea came from. As a brand we want to help people to do that. It’s hopefully something people will connect with in this modern climate.”

In its early days, before it became a pan-European juice and smoothie powerhouse, the brand was built on experimental activity and stunts in a bid to connect with its core customers. As it has grown the marketing strategy has evolved to comprise mainly digital and above the line as it looks to drive greater brand awareness.

“But what’s really important for us is to keep that real connection with people. And to keep ourselves little in a way and continue to do events and projects alongside the bigger awareness driving pieces,” explains Sterry.

The question of proving return on investment (ROI) – Innocent hasn’t revealed how much has been spent on the event – is more challenging than it might be with for example a TV ad, or likewise any kind of performance-driven digital activity. Sterry adds that “it’s especially difficult when you’re trying to measure brand love or the depth of engagement people have with the brand,” rather than an uptick in sales.

The brand will not generate a return through tickets and the event itself will play out relatively quietly as attendees are discouraged from sharing anything on social media. Sterry describes it as a catch-22 situation; generating awareness about an event that’s telling people to switch off from the internet.

Nonetheless, Innocent Unplugged was backed at board level.

“You don’t have to constantly have to prove ROI,” suggests Sterry. “We’ve got a saying 'if you’re 70 per cent sure then just go for it'. You may not be able to accurately measure the ROI, but if you have a gut feeling that people will respond to it in a good manner, that no other brands are doing it, that it feels right, fits with your brand promise, and personality, then just go for it. It’s in doing things like this that helps you connect with fans and potential drinkers. Perhaps a lot more than traditional advertising.

“Whilst it’s wise to spend a large portion of your budget on more proven media platforms like TV and digital it’s really important to save a small portion of your budget to be brave. In a lot of businesses they’d put a stop to things like this before they’ve even started. The culture here is to just go ahead and do it if it feels right and on brand.”

PR is therefore the predominant metric for measurement, The theme of ‘switching off’ and returning to the good life was not only chosen because it ties in with the Innocent brand, but also because it is hot with the press.

“If we were just to run a music event or festival it wouldn’t generate the same coverage as one linked to an interesting topic like this.”

Costs have also been kept down as the project has been driven internally by Innocent’s own creative department rather than an outside agency. Meanwhile, instead of hiring an army of outside staff to run the event over the weekend, over 80 of Innocent’s own people have volunteered to erect stands, pick up litter, help people set up camp and give directions.

“It’s built up by Innocent. So the person you’re asking directions from or who’s introducing the next act could be the finance director. That differentiates and it’s a nice thing for consumers,” he says.

If this year proves successful, Innocent’s ambition is to roll it out wider. But rather than having a single event and risk it becoming "too big or generic" the vision is to do host the same festival for the same number of people in different cities across Europe on the same weekend.

"But let's do year one first," jokes Sterry.

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