Why music festivals can still be an ideal match for brands

Brands have long looked to get into bed with the festival circuit to associate their products with the free spirited approach of music loving millennials. The hopeless marketing romantic in me wants this to work out for them. But will it?

Are festival goers really embracing festival sponsors or are they just using them for free Wi-Fi and a beer koozie? Do they still hold value for brands or has the lustre worn off?

The Biz

Let’s start with understanding the audience question. Outside of Coachella in the US and Glastonbury in the UK, is anyone going to these things?

Simple answer, yes. A big yes! At last count there were over 800 music festivals of different sizes in North America, alone. In 2014, a staggering 32 million people attended at least one music festival in the US according to Nielsen Music and 3.7 million fans attended in the UK according to Statista. Half of them (14.7 million) were millennials, advertisers’ Holy Grail.

The industry is seeing huge growth in attendance globally but costs are rising, driven by competitive bids for artists. Major consolidation has boxed out the independent festival promoter. Tentpole properties have become millennial pilgrimage destinations but the opportunity for development of new properties is limited.

The trends

A few trends are becoming evident. First, with so many festivals, there are only so many bands (especially headliners) available to book. With consolidation, festival producers are creating cost efficiency by booking acts to multiple festival deals. The result is near identical line-ups showing up at multiple properties across the land. This will drive properties to become more regional and less of a destination.

While tentpole properties are fighting to maintain share through killer bookings, the growth factor lies in niche formats. Creating properties for older fans by removing pain point barriers around concessions, facilities, and viewing platforms is growing in popularity as seen with Kaboo in Las Vegas, Desert Trip and Arroyo Seco in California, and, to some degree, Isle of Wight in the UK.


Brands are looking to festivals to deliver on a cultural passion and to do so diversely. The incredible quantity of major festivals allows brands to create bespoke activations, tweak for local nuance, impact myriad demographics and amortise costs across multiple properties. Brand spend in the space is significant and consistent, with brands spending $878m in North America in 2016, according to IEGSR.

Back to our budding romance… the festival producer is calling on the brand regularly; courting them with promises of open-minded twenty-somethings with disposable incomes. The potential suitor looks great on paper. What’s a brand to do? The answer’s simple… swipe right, but control the relationship.

Festivals remain a great way to engage brands as long as you’re being smart with property selection. With so much to choose from, it can be a buyers’ market but buyer beware. If your activation isn’t sizeable, unique and delivering significant value, it can easily get lost in the crowd.

Here are five tips to a successful festival marriage:

  1. Choose your spouse carefully: Dating the popular kids in festival school is always tempting but might not deliver the best ROI. You don’t have to 'slum-it' to find a better fit. Spend time understanding attendance demographics, on-site experiences and behaviour.
  2. It’s more than a one night stand: Impacting the fan on-site is important but there are ways to stretch out the engagement. Top brands are evolving their festival sponsorship past the footprint; identifying branded content, sweeps, social and even fringe activity opportunities to deliver scale and cadence to the campaign.
  3. Be polyamorous: No need to commit to just one festival. The big chunk of your costs are sunk with the activation build. Commit to multiple properties and find efficiency in the amortisation of your production build.
  4. Size matters: With so many festivals to choose from, does it really make sense to settle for the little guys? Knowing your sunk costs are going to be comparable at ACL and some little death metal fest in Twyford, try to focus on properties that deliver 30k fans a day and are at minimum, a 3 day property.
  5. Consider living alone: If the money’s there, brands can make big noise by creating proprietary events. Budweiser’s ‘Made in America’ and Pabst’s ‘Project Pabst’ are great examples of brands who’ve realised it’s better when they don’t share a spouse with other brands.

As brands continue to fight towards delivering better engagement with their budgets, they should definitely look at the abilities of festivals. If activated properly, it can truly be a match made in heaven, leading to more than just a summer romance with music fans but rather a long term love affair with your consumers who find new connections with the brand through the power of music.

Glenn Minerley is head of music & entertainment at Momentum Worldwide

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