Why Marketers Should Consider Brand Activations at Festivals in 2019

Event Marketing


No matter the season, there is always some sort of festival going on. From January beer festivals to December holiday markets, there is always an event to attend thanks to our experience-focused lifestyles. What does this mean for your brand? It means an opportunity for promotion during public events and festivals. At any given music festival, you’ll see crowds of people waiting at the entrance, huddling around the beer tents, and jamming to their favorite bands.

One thing you might not expect to see is large groups of festivalgoers congregated around brand activations. Located throughout the festival grounds, these activations are places where brands try to integrate themselves into the event itself. This method of advertising comes in the form of experience. You will see brands giving out free samples and souvenirs as they host celebrity guests, hold contests, and offer sweepstakes.

Brand sponsorships for music festivals, tours, and venues totaled $1.22 billion in 2012. With the attendance of festivals on the rise, marketers should tap into this market as experiences are a powerful way to create an association between a brand and its audience. According to Nielsen’s research with its Music 360 report, 76% of festivalgoers and 51% of all consumers say they feel more favorable toward brands that sponsor a tour or concert. What’s more, approximately 74% of music streamers lean toward brands that engage them through music giveaways, sweepstakes, and sponsorships. Red Bull mastered this method by starting a dedicated music blog on its website that covers concerts and festivals sponsored by the brand.

VH1 spent the weekend on-site at Lollapalooza, where the brand hosted live music and a GIF photobooth where festival attendees could create an animated graphic. The GIFs could then be emailed and shared, giving participants a complimentary souvenir to share with friends.

Old School Is Not Cool

Product-focused advertisement is no longer a tactic that the festival audience desires. For example, Ben Richardson, co-founder of emergent technology festival Future Assembly, stated while brainstorming with the other co-founders: “No one is allowed to pitch their product when they’re talking at Future Assembly; they have 25 minutes to inspire the audience with an insight that is unique to their field and that’s it. It’s not a sales expo. No one is allowed to sell their products at the event, it’s all about networking.”

To make sure your user-generated content is full of positive feedback and messaging for your brand, look for festivals that align with your ideal customer profile. Just as products are curated online or in-store to promote conversion, the overall festival experience must be curated for optimum enjoyment. “We live by two core philosophies when it comes to Future Assembly,” says Richardson, “First, everything is completely curated for quality—we have stringent checklists—and, second, everyone has to be able to communicate the value their product or company brings to society in a way that a 12-year-old would be able to understand.”

Curating connection is also part of what will set successful festivals apart from their competition. Much of the frustration of festival attendees is the lack of opportunity to really connect and engage with key speakers or acts post-festival.

Experience Marketing for Brands

“What is the best possible experience we can give people?”, the critical question in any marketer’s mind. Nowhere is it more crucial than at festivals.

Jean-François Ponthieux, the creator of So Frenchy, So Chic says “I’m constantly searching for new information to make sure I don’t fall behind. What was true yesterday may be obsolete today, so people must stay on top of trends, of shifts in technology, and of what their audience most wants. Challenge your strategies and tactics and test everything!”

This year, the Governor’s Ball Music Festival in New York City had sponsors such as Bacardi Rum, Tito’s Vodka, Coca-Cola, and Subway. High ticket prices like those found at this annual event don’t discourage Millenials. Despite their reputation as advertising-averse and difficult to reach, Millenials are still the target consumer of many brands. A cottage industry of millennial-focused brand experts and consultants has formed to better engage this particular age group & their buying power.

Talking the Talk Leads to Engagement Marketing

Throughout the three-day festival attendees were using advertising jargon—engaging with brands—sampling products, filling out surveys, signing up for mailing lists, and taking branded photos and uploading them to social media.

All of that is a testament to the skill of Founders Entertainment, the festival promotion company behind Governors Ball, and more broadly the genius of experiential marketing or engagement marketing. Rather than a one-way, passive relationship between brand and consumer, engagement marketing tries to create a two-way relationship getting the consumer and the brand to interact in the real world. So-called brand activations, like those on-site at Governors Ball, are the predominant way to make that happen.

The Founders Entertainment team, led by Alex Joffe, the director of brand and media partnerships, have grown festival sponsorships and activations to a program that generates millions of dollars per year. For example, the number of music festival attendees in the U.S. reaches 32 million each year, 14.7 million of whom are millennials. On average, people will travel 903 miles to go to a U.S. festival.

Music Festival Appeal for Brands

Music festivals are appealing to brands for a few reasons:

  • There are thousands of people in the same vicinity for two or three days, mostly within the beloved 18-34-year-old age range.
  • There is a pretty significant chance that the attendees have some disposable income. (Hence their ability to attend the festival in the first place.)
  • What better way for a brand to present itself as cool and relevant than by partaking in trends like music festivals? Connectivity is imperative at any festival. Patrons want to share their experiences instantly and join conversations online about what’s working and what’s not in real-time. Social media also acts as a way of increasing audience participation with companies utilizing digital incentives to entice patrons to brand activation areas.

What are Some Ways to Promote Your Brand at a Festival?

Create an experience integrated with the festival. Music festivals are more than a destination for live music; they are a place for festivalgoers to make memories. By integrating your brand into the experience, you can incorporate your brand into festivalgoers’ minds. Millennials, in particular, are likely to support brands that stay up to date and participate in popular trends such as music festivals. Positioning your brand in new and engaging ways will create new customers through experiences who remember your brand.

Talk to the event organizers. Don’t just buy a spot for your booth. Engaging with promoters and fellow event professionals is an opportunity to network and learn from others.

Get involved on social media before and during the event. Use hashtags and mention organizers or participants. Create a buzz on social media by showing what happens behind the scenes in prep and during the event.

Integrate your brand design with the theme of the festival. But don’t change your colors or logo; the audience needs to remember you after the event.

Offer special deals available only to the attendees.

Create personalized bags with your logo for the giveaway. Anyone can use a bag to store their purchases and free stuff, while your brand will advertise itself. Think of other useful giveaways to engage customers while giving them what they need. Things like t-shirts, hats, branded bottles of water, a charging station, or hotspot will draw consumers to you.

Provide useful information to attendees about the festival. For example, line-up information or festival map.

Think of a creative way to collect leads on the spot. Make sure to follow up with your leads after the event.

Be bold. The audience is already there, you just need to captivate them.

Lean into #FOMO

Understanding the fear of missing out psychology is key to successful music festival marketing:

  • Create shareable photo moments. Incorporate your brand into photos that people will want to share. Interactive photobooths with props, animated backgrounds, and the opportunity to share directly to their mobile device are all critical elements to consider.
  • Come as fans, not authorities. Festival-goers don’t want to be marketed to, and brands need to be present at festivals as fans. If they present as authority figures, it will be an instant turn-off.
  • Ensure the experience is transactional. Millennials want to feel they are getting something out of their interaction with a brand, so activations must create organic opportunities that add value to the festival experience and which festival-goers will want to share on social media.
  • Use instant feedback. Through direct one-on-one interactions at the events, marketers get invaluable real-time feedback on the products in a way that isn’t possible through traditional marketing. You can also make changes to improve the experience in real-time.
  • Encourage ongoing relationships. By allowing attendees to opt-in for data collection and ongoing contact, brands can create ongoing relationships beyond one event.

As you plan for 2019, think about what festivals might align with your brand. Consider creating an experiential brand activation to engage new potential customers. Thinking outside the box to engage with your customers and create opportunities to find new ones is vital for consumer-focused brands. And with so many festivals gaining in popularity, the opportunity is right in front of you.

Are there any amazing brand activations that you’ve seen at a festival? Tell me about it in the comments.