Five show-stopping music festival brand activations from 2016

By Jesse Kirshbaum | Founder & CEO

October 21, 2016 | 8 min read

There’s no questioning that music festivals have become a staple in pop culture. What were formerly relegated to the fringes of music and counterculture have now secured themselves squarely in the mainstream—much to the chagrin of festival purists who claim that these experiences have “jumped the shark.”

Credit: Budweiser

Credit: Budweiser

As with any cultural movement, brands have been eager to find ways to get involved. It’s a smart strategy for marketers who are vying for millennial dollars in particular, as a majority of festival-goers fall within this coveted demographic—but these types of experiences aren’t ripe for every category or every brand.

It’s my job to be on the pulse of all aspects of the music scene: from up-and-coming talent and production trends to music technology and brand activations. As such, I personally attended nearly every major festival this year (#workperks). Here are the best brand activations I saw, and what other marketers can learn from them.

HP at Panorama

What they did: New York’s Panorama festival debuted in July 2016, with a clear focus on the growing role of technology in the festival experience. As one of the festival’s brand partners, HP led a buzzworthy activation called “The Lab,” which invited attendees to experience immersive art installations from local talent within a 70-foot dome structure equipped with a VR theatre, hi-def video walls, and HP demo products.

Artists collaborated with HP to take their art to new levels—which played perfectly into the brand’s mantra to “make ideas come to life”—and festival goers benefited by gaining a unique opportunity to experience something completely new.

What we learned: The music industry is relentlessly pushing for more out-of-the-box, immersive experiences (think Kanye West’s floating stage, which debuted at this summer’s “Saint Pablo” tour). Technology companies like HP are in a unique position to partner with talent and festival planners to push these performances to new levels while capturing massive brand buzz and attention as a festival focal point.

State Farm at Bonnaroo

What they did: Established in 2002, Bonnaroo is the original “camping” festival of this generation, with attendees trekking out to Manchester, Tenn. and roughing it in tents and trailers for several days. Lacking the built-in, convenient amenities of an urban-oriented festival, Bonnaroo proved to be the perfect environment for a clever stunt by State Farm to capture attention and provide value.

At this year’s festival, State Farm hooked up festival-goers with roadside assistance for forgotten necessities such as toothbrushes/toothpaste, shampoo and more. Dubbed #HereToHelp, the effort positioned State Farm as a savior for weary music fans.

What we learned: State Farm proved that brands don’t need to “out-cool” festivals to stand out. In situations where people are tired, hungry, out of battery, you name it—small gestures that make their lives easier (e.g. simple value-adds and utilities) can go a long way when it comes to fostering brand love.

Toyota at Lollapalooza

What they did: At this summer’s Lollapalooza festival in Chicago, Toyota turned a branded Snapchat filter—normally a commonplace marketing tactic—into a “golden ticket” that granted concert-goers with access to surprise, pop-up performances from Big Boi and Leon Bridges at the Toyota Music Den.

The brand timed the show at the “25th hour” of Lollapalooza, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this summer. As closer Radiohead completed their set, attendees who unlocked Toyota’s “Secret Show” badge gained entry to even more music– a major plus-up for music lovers who were not quite ready to call it quits on the Lolla experience.

What we learned: Toyota used a conventional marketing tactic in a completely new way, and was the first brand to use a geo-filtered Snapchat filter to grant entrance to an event. By piggybacking existing consumer behavior, Toyota could pull off this epic surprise-and-delight stunt with a relatively low barrier to entry–an important criterion for any event where there is a lot of “noise,” music or otherwise.

H&M and Coachella

What they did: At festivals in recent years, nearly as central as the music itself has been the phenomenon of “festival fashion.” The concept is simple: People who attend these events use them as a runway for testing new trends and remixing old ones–and no festival is more known for its fashion than Coachella.

In 2016, for the second straight year, H&M collaborated with Coachella to offer a capsule collection centered around the unique West Coast fashion trends that make Coachella the unofficial festival of style. H&M benefitted by becoming the line that epitomized Coachella fashion and culture, and Coachella reaped the benefits of being exposed to potential revenue from millions of H&M shoppers nationwide.

What we learned: H&M recognized a massive opportunity to reach audiences beyond festival-goers themselves, and as a fast-fashion retailer, was able to implement a temporary capsule line to align with cultural chatter leading up to the springtime festival. In the process, H&M demonstrated the power of official partnerships and tapping into festival culture, beyond or in addition to on-the-ground efforts alone.

Budweiser at Stagecoach

What they did: At the Stagecoach Festival, held just up the road from Coachella in Indio, Calif., Budweiser launched its “Country Club” activation, designed to help concert-goers celebrate craftsmanship, country music and the freedom of “living on your own terms.”

Contrasted with the incredible technological bells and whistles of something like the HP Lab at Panorama, Budweiser proved that brands can keep it simple while still making an impact. The Budweiser Country Club delivered value to Stagecoach attendees in the form of a three-story, open-air structure that offered elevated views of the festival, games, and more.

What we learned: Budweiser was one of the first brands to aggressively invest in the $1.4 billion dollar live music sponsorship market, partnering with Jay Z’s Roc Nation in 2012 to launch their very own “Made in America” festival in Philadelphia. Following Stagecoach, they showed brands how to get the most bang for their buck by porting the Country Club edifice to three additional country-focused events.


The big lesson here: Like any cultural trend, brands need to pick and choose their battles wisely. With millennials, teens and incoming generations of consumers behind them, authenticity is the name of the game.

There’s plenty of room for brands to play at festivals and other music-based events, but before diving in marketers should ask: 1) “Can I translate my brand story in a way that’s appropriate for this environment?” and 2) “Does my brand experience offer tangible value to busy and distracted festival-goers?” If you can answer “yes” to both of those questions, the next challenge is to craft a unique and compelling enough experience that can cut through the noise – and keep in mind, in a festival setting this “noise” comes in the form of the likes of Kanye, LCD Soundsystem and The Strokes.


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