Brands use festivals to reach the staycation nation

LONDON - Event and sponsorship activity has been at the sharp end of the recession, but UK consumers have been going to festivals in droves this year, providing a big opportunity for brands.

A couple of years ago, The Ordinary Boys opened their set at the O2 Wireless festival by asking the crowd to put their hands up if they thought O2 was rubbish. It was an act that probably made the concert promoter break into a cold sweat.

In the current climate, however, even the most contrarian among the rock fraternity, such as Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher, would be less likely to take an anti-corporate stance. After all, he now has his own clothing line, Pretty Green. With the traditional recorded music sales model becoming akin to trying to sell sand in the desert, live music with brand support is more important than ever.

The awkward co-existence of brands and bands has vexed marketers for years. Fest-ivals have long been criticised for becoming 'too commercial'. While some, like V, have been brand-heavy, commercial ventures from the start, an excessive brand presence can leave a bad taste in consumers' mouths.

Russell Samuel, managing director of brand entertainment agency STREAM\, says the recession has forced brands to reassess their presence at festivals. How-ever, he believes that the opportunity to reach consumers has never been greater. 'It is not about putting a generic DJ in a generic tent and saying "job done",' he says. 'Brands can fulfil a need, such as Orange and its Chill and Charge tent, and reward consumers.'

Consumers may complain about the commer-cialisation of music festivals, but if asked whether they would be willing to pay more to attend such events if it meant there were no sponsors, the chances are you would get a very different response.

Nonetheless, when festival-goers have spent more than £100 on a ticket, it is understandable that they do not want to feel like they are walking into a giant billboard when they go through the gates.
Brands seeking exclusive pouring rights also need to bear in mind that those seen as limiting or infringing consumers' choices leave themselves open to criticism. At a time when people's eyes are on their finances, it is vital that brands 'add value' in more ways than one.

Treading carefully is vital, says Sony Computer Entertainment Europe's UK marketing director, Alan Duncan. The brand has had a presence at the Glaston-bury festival for three years, and is at pains not to go into 'brand over-kill'. 'Glastonbury is not commercial and is not like other music festivals; it is a truly unique experience and we are focused on delivering a great experience,' he adds.

While Glastonbury is less cluttered by brands than most festivals, many marketers feel unable to compete with the mass of activity competing for attention at more commercial events such as V and Lovebox. Charlotte Ashburner, brand manager at Brown-Forman, looked at a variety of festivals at which to promote her drinks brands, which include Tuaca.

'I love Lovebox, but when you look at how many drinks brands are there, and the cost, you have to ask yourself will you get lost there?' Instead, Tuaca has invested in smaller, sporting festivals including LG Freeze and Boardmasters.

For brands outside the alcohol sector, the problem is often less about cut-through and more about establishing a reason to be at a festival in the first place. This year, NestlŽ Aero bar used its presence at V to give something back to consumers in the form of free mint Aero chocolates. The brand also created a giant Aero 'bubble' that consumers could step into to cool down, creating a more memorable experience than sampling alone. Elsewhere, dry shampoo brand Batiste offered festival-goers a five-minute hair makeover and the chance to win a Vespa scooter.

Despite the range of brands at this summer's festivals, the economy is placing such activity under consid-erable pressure. While it is helpful to establish clear measure-ment parameters at the start, it is hard for brands that do not sell products on-site to quantify the effect
of their activity.

There is an upside to the recession, however. While festival promoters are, understandably, at pains to deny it, there is a big opportunity for brands to capitalise on the downturn. Henry Scotland, managing director of Iris Experience, which works with Play-Station and Sony Ericsson, says that there are great deals to be done. 'Many of the established festivals, which use sponsorship for incremental revenue and not critical revenue, are freezing or even reducing fees to retain or recruit brands,' he adds. Festivals have also become more flexible about what kind of deals can be done, giving brands that
can provide a product or service greater negotiating power.

There is also a steady stream of innova-tion in the events space, and, while only a handful of brands have either the budget  or inclination to launch an own-branded event, they can maximise exposure at fledgling events. Another option for brands is to support a worthwhile cause. Last year, for example, National Schools Film Week took 400,000 children to see 250 films at 2000 free screen-ings in 550 locations across the UK. The event is now seeking brands to support this year's 'week' in October.

Despite concerns that Britain's festival scene has become saturated, niche events continue to thrive as consumers seek an escape from the day-to-day grind. The live music industry is thriving and festivals remain a vital channel for brands.

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