Take one field. Throw in a stage, a sound-system and a few bands. Top it off with a plentiful supply of booze, and you have a seemingly irresistible recipe, for both consumers and brands. It has been an unparalleled summer for live music. There have been more festivals than ever, with something to suit pretty much every taste, from classical to heavy metal, and from family days out in the park to Portaloo-punctuated weekends in the countryside.
Attendances have also risen across the board, and brands have been swift to get in on the act. But with so many clamouring to be part of the festival circuit, the pressure is on to stand out. There is certainly no shortage of options. Festival sponsorship can mean a brand having its own tent or stage, providing a particular service, such as pouring rights for beer, or sending a promotional team down to hand out samples. Some brands, such as O2 and Ben & Jerry's, simply organise their own events.
No single route guarantees success, but there is one common denominator across the activities that work best, according to James Kent, sponsorship manager at Carling Weekend organiser Festival Republic (formerly Mean Fiddler). That is 'adding real tangible value' to the audience's experience. He cites the Carling Cold Beer Amnesty, where the brand offered a chilled pint in exchange for any unopened can of lager, as an example of a simple idea executed well. 'There is no point having too many bells and whistles,' he adds. 'It confuses consumers without adding value.'
Alcohol brands' activity is the most developed in the sector. Strongbow, for example, tours several festivals with The Cider House, a tent handled by agency RPM, which has its own DJs. Mobile brands also have plenty of experience, with brands such as Nokia and Orange offering handset-recharge points.
It is, of course, vital for brands that wish to participate to understand the festival scene. Clearly, events such as the Summer Proms or the Cambridge Folk Festival have very different demographics from those focused on rock and pop. But even among the latter, it is dangerous to assume that one mud-caked festival-goer is the same as any other. The crowd at V, for instance, tends to be young and mainstream, while the Carling Weekend in Reading and Leeds is full of teenagers and student rockers, The Big Chill has a more upmarket feel with a tinge of hippy chic, and Glastonbury is a bit of everything.
'Understanding those differences allows you to get more from the same idea,' says Kent. 'Consumers appreciate a brand more if it has made the effort to tailor its approach to the festival. It might cost a little more, but you get more out of it.'
Different festivals can have very different attitudes toward the presence of commercial brands. Glastonbury, which returned after a year's hiatus, polices branding at its festival carefully. Worthy causes such as Oxfam and Greenpeace take precedence, and sponsors have to abide by strict rules regarding the use of logos. According to Robert Richards, its head of sponsorship, Glastonbury looks for ties with brands that can aid its socially conscious agenda; Carlsberg, for example, developed compostable cups. 'We want to celebrate products that can do something positive,' he says. 'We don't want people to come to the festival and be bombarded with corporate logos.'
Glastonbury's approach encouraged brands to take a subtle approach to achieve stand-out. Orange this year played on its strong visual identity. Forbidden from displaying its logo on its phone-recharge area, it instead used an orange tent, fitted out with orange furniture. Furthermore, rather than rely on its brand to speak for itself, it sought to give people an experience. 'It realised the charge tent needed work,' says Richards. 'This year it had music and other elements so that people weren't just waiting for their phones to charge, they enjoyed being there.'
A cautious attitude to branding was also in evidence at The Big Chill and Bestival. V, on the other hand, is known as one of the most overtly commercial events; festival-goers expect greater brand presence, so brands have more flexibility. This year's festival in Chelmsford featured a small stage sponsored by underwear brand Sloggi. There were no acts, but a group of lingerie-clad models would periodically perform dances there.
Success is not necessarily about having the biggest banners. Small touches can also make a difference; The Guardian, for example, sells papers at several festivals in branded draw-string bags, which then tend to adorn the purchasers' backs all weekend. Similarly, a mobile download of an animated monster, organised by Iris Experience for Sony Ericsson at the O2 Festival, proved a big draw. Tactics such as these can give a brand exposure and contrast with activity by Samsung at Bestival or JJB at V, both of which sponsored a tent but left little impression elsewhere.
Mike Mathieson, chief executive of Cake, which handled Carling's presence at events during the summer, believes the best sponsorships give something back to festival-goers. 'Relevance is key. If you go in spuriously, you will be ignored,' he argues. 'This is a media-savvy, cynical audience.' He adds that festival sponsorships tend to run in three-year cycles: the first is about establishing the brand at the event and finding out how it works; the second is about experimenting; and the third is about using the lessons to exploit the tie-up.
It is easy for big ideas to go awry. This year the weather was a major issue. Match.com's attempt to organise a late-night kissathon at Glastonbury, for example, fell somewhat flat in the cold and the mud. 'Nobody ever sees 90% of the work you do at a festival. They only notice the final 10%, and whether or not it works can come down to small things such as the weather,' says RPM managing director Hugh Robertson. 'It means construction of your activity can take twice as long.'
A final issue to bear in mind is expanding the tie-up beyond the festival itself. As more live music is filmed for TV broadcast, it provides another platform on which to build on a festival link. Lynx, for example, had a presence at V and created break bumpers for the coverage on Channel 4. Carling went one step further and created its own TV content across the summer called Carling Festival Postcards, also shown on C4.
Next year's festival calendar will be equally busy, but brands eager to approach consumers in this environment should tread carefully, warns Robertson. 'The public is less forgiving than they used to be, and festival promoters take their role as media owners far more seriously. They know that if brands get it wrong, people will accuse the festivals of selling out.'
To read more of Marketing's festival reviews or to comment, visit www.brandrepublic.com/marketing
O2 WIRELESS FESTIVAL - Hyde Park, 14-17 June
Key brands: O2 (obviously), Ray-Ban, Sony Ericsson
The vibe: Perfect choice for urbanites who don't like mud and pit latrines. London crowd, typically 18-30s.
Brand opportunities: Large and affluent audience, but anyone who isn't O2 is, of course, playing second fiddle.
Star turns: O2 did a good job of creating envy among non-customers. The O2 Blueroom had gigs for its customers, with queues of about 40 at all times. Sony Ericsson stood out, too. Its tent let visitors download a dancing monster to their mobile phone - hundreds of younger festival-goers did so.
Could do better: There was no obvious branding on the Tuborg tent. Ray-Ban's presence seemed muted too.
GLASTONBURY - Pilton, Somerset, 22-24 June
Key brands: The Guardian, Orange, Carlsberg
The vibe: Blend of left-leaning politics, hippy love and enough music to please even the most eclectic taste. Broad crowd, from cider-crazed crusties to wannabe WAGs.
Brand opportunities: Gives prominence to worthy causes, so the presence of commercial brands is very strictly policed.
Star turns: The Guardian stood out with a branded guide, 'Guardian Lounge' tent and dating venue. Orange made an impact by giving out bright-orange waterproof ponchos.
Could do better: Sony PlayStation's SingStar karaoke was an inspired idea until a band took the stage nearby and drowned it out. Match.com's attempt at a synchronised outdoor kissing session also fell flat - it was too cold and muddy.
THE BIG CHILL - Malvern Hills, 3-4 August
Key brands: Southern Comfort, Finlandia, Amstel
The vibe: Aging ravers treat the kids to a weekend in the country. 'Boutique' festival with plenty of dance music, fancy-dress and a quirky green edge.
Brand opportunities: Like Glastonbury, commercial brand partnerships are kept low-key compared with charity ties.
Star turns: The Guardian's drawstring bags turned up all over the site. Southern Comfort and Finlandia had branded stages, and Amstel's bar fitted the event's mood. And credit to Habitat and LivingEtc for bringing a tent equipped with toys for the kids - it was always full.
Could do better: Tiger Beer's tent was out of the way and seemed generic compared with the others.
SUMMER PROMS - Stonor Park, Henley-on-Thames, 4 August
Key brands: Carte D'Or, Lexus, Gallo
The vibe: The Home Counties set congregates for picnics, classical music and plenty of flag-waving hokum.
Brand opportunities: The crowd, worth the equivalent of a small country's GDP, is a marketer's dream, but there's limited space for brands to gain a presence.
Star turns: There's no mistaking the headline sponsor - Carte D'Or branding is everywhere, and its giveaway of ice cream proved very popular on a summer's day. Credit to Baxters, too, for sending out people to approach picnickers with free chutney samples.
Could do better: Lexus' presence amounted to three cars parked near the entrance. Unfortunately, they paled in comparison with the models in the punters' car park.
V FESTIVAL - Chelmsford, 18-19 August
Key brands: Virgin Mobile, Carling, Strongbow, Bacardi
The vibe: Near enough to London to mean plenty of day-ticket attendees. Generally young and mainstream crowd.
Brand opportunities: Brands can get away with things at V they can't elsewhere.
Star turns: The Virgin brands - and Virgin Mobile in particular - were everywhere. There was even a Virgin-branded kebab van. Strongbow and Bacardi also did well with strongly branded tents.
Could do better: Whatever relevance a bus selling Volkswagen merchandise had was lost on the crowd - it never looked busy. There was a lot of grumbling about the hour-long queues for Carling beer tokens. And despite sponsoring a stage, JJB had little presence elsewhere on the site.
CARLING WEEKEND - Reading, 24-26 August
Key brands: Carling, Nokia, NME
The vibe: Reading (and its sister festival in Leeds) lacks Glastonbury's boho chic - it's all about loud guitar music. Crowd is teens and student rockers.
Brand opportunities: Brands must accept Carling will dominate.
Star turns: Nokia's Rock Up and Play tent, where wannabe rock stars could perform on stage, was busy every night. Carling's offer to swap any unopened can of beer for a pint went down well, while Lynx's Manwash at which men got to be scrubbed down by bikini-clad women proved popular.
Could do better: Energy drink Relentless and Jack Daniel's had a strong presence at the Leeds site, but neither seemed to do much at Reading.