We’re at the peak of summer 2023, which means festival season is in full swing. Each year brands tuck away some of their marketing budget in preparation for the season’s biggest events. Festival activations are the hottest tickets for brands looking to get their name out there. They are also great opportunities for brands to experiment with new marketing strategies, reach new audiences, and foster better relationships with consumers.
So, what are the guidelines? What can we learn from the likes of Spotify, Absolut, and other big name brands that activate around the biggest festivals. How can brands nail festival marketing?
Let’s find out.
What is a festival marketing activation?
Festivals, whether cultural, music, seasonal or entertainment based, draw large crowds and widespread attention all-year-round. Businesses and brands often leverage these occasions to promote brand awareness, engage with potential customers, and boost sales.
Festival activations can come in different shapes and sizes. Picture this, you’re on the staggered walk back to camp when, suddenly, the familiarity of the Smirnoff pop up wanders into your gaze. One more drink for the road. Simply put, festival activations are ads and promotions – marketing opportunities for brands to jump on the festival hype.
Festival activations don’t always need to happen inside a festival, or in the physical world for that matter. Ahead of Coachella 2022, Absolut Vodka launched Absolut.Land, a virtual festival-based space in the metaverse. Accessible across the globe, the colorful virtual world featured unique experiences centered around Absolut’s products and passion points. Fans could explore the space using avatars while enjoying an anti gravity dance floor, and virtual mosh pit. There was also a museum gallery showcasing Absolute artwork, a garden where fans could discover collectives, a selfie room, a Pride tunnel paying homage to the LGBTQ+ community, a rainbow-themed dance party, and much more.
And then there are influencer activations. Influencers have become a huge part of festival marketing, aiding brands in raising the hype around a particular festival, and boosting that brand’s visibility in-person and online. At Glastonbury 2023, Vodafone partnered with Dresslikeamum to promote its charging station dotted around the site. The campaign, #feeltheconnection, brought the Glastonbury experience to life, showing viewers the vibrant side of the summer music festival, and how to stay connected with Vodafone.
Why brands choose festival marketing above other channels
Increased brand exposure and visibility
Large festivals, like Glastonbury and Coachella, attract attendees by the hundreds of thousands. These audiences come from various different backgrounds, with varying interests and demographics. Brands can reach a broad and diverse audience all in one place when they choose to market at these events. Additionally, festivals also receive wide coverage from mainstream media and social media, which provides brands with additional exposure beyond the event itself.
Festivals thrive off high-octane energy, lively and interactive environments. It’s almost principal for festival-goers to be upbeat and in a somewhat celebratory mood. This creates an opportunity for brands to engage with consumers in a more memorable and personal way, helping to foster a stronger connection with consumers, aiding brand recall.
Building brand loyalty
Brand advocacy and community building are two benefits attached to festival marketing. Festivals foster a sense of community and camaraderie. Brands can become a part of that community by actively engaging with festival-goers, encouraging them to advocate the brand and develop an affinity that goes beyond the festival.
Festival activations can be a great way for brands to experiment with new strategies and ideas. Brands can offer festival-goers a hands-on experience, product demonstrations, and interactive involvement in different activities. If the efforts prove successful, brands can implement them in future activations. If not, brands will have been able to understand what went wrong by gathering real-time feedback, and where they can improve.
Tips for planning a successful festival marketing strategy
Pick the festival you attend wisely
Just like selecting which social and digital channels to use for your marketing strategy, choosing the right festivals is key. Brands should activate around the festivals that align with their target audience and brand identity. This could be achieved by researching the festivals’ themes, attendees, previous years’ performers, and what kind of brands have been activating around that festival.
Build hype before the festival starts
The beauty of social media means that brands can get the ball rolling before the gates are open. For brands with in-person presence, building momentum might look like an announcement video on social, giving audiences an insight into what to expect.
Festivals often have limited sponsorship and exhibition opportunities. Secure your spot and start preparing your festival marketing materials well in advance.
Create a unique experience
Whether it’s banding together with friends, watching the best performers, or queueing for the portaloos, festivals are made up of unique experiences. At heart, festivals are all about making memories.
Brands should have this in mind before any festival marketing plans. How can you leave a lasting impression on your audience, and how can you make the experience as unique as possible? Consider interactive demonstrations, games and activities to get the audience involved – just ensure that it aligns with brand messaging.
Use the power of social
In addition to building pre festival hype, using social can help drive conversation during, and after the event. Create event-specific hashtags, share sneak peeks, and encourage attendees to share their experiences using your brand’s hashtags. Why not experiment with social? Try out a new platform or a new format, or direct content towards an untapped demographic.
Consider making it exclusive
What’s more unique than an exclusive product offering? Festivals mark the ideal opportunity for brands to create exclusive deals, discounts, or limited edition products to entice festival-goers into making purchases during the event. Scarcity and exclusivity are excellent drivers of urgency and sales.
Festival marketing done right
Now that we’ve outlined some of the top tips for drafting a festival marketing strategy, let’s see them put into action.
PS there is some Coachella bias here… it just has the best brand activations.
American Express: Coachella 2023
What they did
American Express returned to Coachella this year, hosting an on-site activation. The Y2K-inspired space was centered around Gen Z’s love for “newstalgic” experiences. Festival-goers were provided with a vintage camera emporium and photo studio. AMEX partnered with eco-friendly camera company Paper Shoot, which means attendees could rent or purchase vintage cameras at the pop-up. Cardholders could also print their photos on limited-edition Coachella totes, and had their own fast lane to gain quick access to merchandise and a complimentary gift.
Why it worked
AMEX outlined Coachella as a means of connecting with Gen Z – the generation linked to the transformation, or commercialization, of the famous music festival. The brand identified, and brought to life, an area of interest among Gen Z consumers, its love for ‘newstalgia’ – using the past to feel positive about the future. Gen Z is also known for its affinity for sustainability, something that AMEX was aware of. Partnering with Paper Shoot meant that AMEX could channel a unique experience, providing access to vintage cameras, but also channeling one of the values that Gen Z consumers expect from brands.
Spotify’s Desert Kickback: Coachella 2022
What they did
Spotify led two brand activations at Coachella 2022. The first, an album release for Swedish House Mafia, which treated fans to a live performance from the desert, and available to fans in select markets live via the Spotify app.
Festival-goers could also experience Spotify’s Desert Kickback, a beach-inspired resort chic featuring DJ performances from Channel Tres and Kitty Ca$h. The space transformed into a wellness bar offering fresh juices and coconut water. To help cope with the heat, visitors could visit stations filled with sunscreen, portable chargers and eucalyptus soaked towels.
Why it worked
Spotify’s Desert Kickback provided visitors with a place to recharge, away from the festive buzz. The two activations combined exclusivity with resourcefulness, providing charging stations and sunscreen in addition to a personal preview of an unreleased album.
This activation contrasts with the offerings of other pop-ups typically featured at Coachella, in that it promoted tranquility as opposed to high octane energy. While other brands looked to grab attention, Spotify sought to take a step back, offering visitors a unique experience that wasn’t available elsewhere.
Arla: The Great Northern Swim
What they did
Don’t think we’re only paying homage to music events, either. In 2023, Arla became the title partner for the Great North Swim, the UK’s most popular swimming event. We collaborated with Arla to build hype for the event, inviting influencers to take part in the open swimming event.
In addition to the big swim, Arla’s partnership with the Great Northern Swim brought a festival atmosphere to Lake Windermere. Those in attendance could stop by a variety of branded stalls to pick up a book, kickstart the endorphins with a coffee, grab some food, and pose for a photo at many of the branded pop up canvases available on site.
We tasked our selected influencers with bringing the festival to life, and showing audiences how the Great Northern Swim offers something for everyone, not just the swimmers.
Why it worked
We’re living in the authenticity era. Amongst trends like the ‘deinfluencing’ movement, and content creators moving away from airbrushed heavily edited photos, influencers, and marketers in the sector, are tasked with reflecting real and honest content.
We wanted Arla’s Great Northern Swim activation to truly emulate what the event is all about. We partnered with micro and macro influencers whose content reflected countryside walks, and wild swimming – creators who love the outdoors, and more importantly thrive in the open water. Each influencer brought the event to life through their content, showing us the ins and outs of open water swimming, Arla’s range of pop-up stalls, and the best ways to prepare for the icy depths at Lake Windermere.
Festival marketing, when done right, should create a unique and exclusive experience for festival-goers that leaves a lasting impression beyond the final act. The most popular, and perhaps most effective method, to reach festival audiences is to implement an in-person strategy that is complemented with social and influencer activations. For example, Spotify’s Desert Kickback benefited from its unique offerings that were exclusive to in-person attendance, but viewers online, and on social, could experience the event through the influencers and celebs who were invited to the event. Similarly, those who weren’t in attendance to watch Swedish House Mafia debut their album, could tune in live via Spotify.
Festival marketing should combine in-person and digital mediums to create a channel that drives conversation, and hype on social, which in turn leads to more people turning up to the in-person activation.
But what are the key takeaways?
- Create an exclusive experience
- Utilize social media
- Encourage participation
- Understand your target audience
- Experiment, try something new
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