FEST FULL OF DOLLARS

Forget Wimbledon and Ascot, the festival season is upon us once more, with 16 weeks of events attracting over a million young people. No surprise then that brand owners are rushing to sponsor or even create their own concerts, to tap this capt

Music festivals are becoming as much a part of the summer season as strawberries and cream, Ascot and downpours. And brand owners are keen to be part of these high-profile, high-risk events, despite their alarming proliferation.

Music marketing company OctoberFest UK is hunting a sponsor for a proposed festival planned for September this year. The idea is that the festival, called WorldFest, will celebrate music, entertainment and food from around the world.

Marketing director Kevin Jackson says: “Brand owners are waking up to festivals. Certainly more of them are coming into this market.”

And with such a highly sought- after target market – aged between 18 and 30, evenly split between men and women, style conscious and media literate – it is no surprise that brand owners are chasing these opportunities. Over a million consumers will wind their way through the pop and art festival scene this summer.

Mike Mathieson, managing director of music sponsorship company FFI, which handles a range of festivals, including the Fleadh and Jam in the Park, says: “Brand owners do this for credibility. They are telling the youth market that they understand them. They know what the market yearns for and they want their brands to be a part of the festival experience.”

But Jackson and others admit the festival market is reaching saturation point. “At the moment there are 16 weeks of festivals back to back. I would question whether many more events can fit into that calendar,” he warns.

And yet as with sports marketing, many companies are planning to create their own festivals, to gain greater control over how much influence their brands have. One example of this is Carlsberg’s Songs and Visions, a one-day event to celebrate 60 years of Carlsberg lager.

Perhaps the biggest festival created in recent years has been “T in The Park” sponsored by Bass brand Tennent’s. The festival began in 1994 and this year boasts over 20 acts in two days, which Bass hopes will attract 40,000 people. This year’s acts include Paul Weller, The Charlatans and Dodgy.

Paul Morrison, a board director of sponsorship agency KLP, which has organised the festival on behalf of Tennent’s since inception, has a clear view on what the brand gets out of the concert.

He says the drinks company started sponsoring live music in a host of clubs and pubs around Scotland in 1988. But when bottled beer began to become popular among young males in the UK, Tennent’s marketing executives approached his company.

“Bass wanted a unique event to start a dialogue with Tennent’s non-core target market,” says Morrison. “Designer beers were beginning to eat away at the brand’s market. We came up with T in the Park. It was the first big festival to be held in Scotland.

“It is also something that Tennent’s can promote in advance of the event, using radio and press ads, as well as after. In the past we have released an album of the concert.”

Yet brand owners have to tread carefully when dealing with this cynical audience, as there is a high risk of alienating precisely the people you are trying to woo.

Mathieson says: “We are talking about a very sceptical audience which just doesn’t like to be sold to. If they see people simply handing out free samples of, say, suntan lotion at an event, they will switch off.”

At T in the Park the toilets are branded T-pees and the bars have “T-hirsty” over them. While Diesel is providing a Diesel-branded BMX bike/skateboard ramp at Tribal Gathering this year to entertain the guests. And even Sega is jumping on the bandwagon by sponsoring celebrity football matches at the Phoenix this year.

It’s not particularly expensive to get involved. Typically, a small presence like a stall at a festival costs about 5,000. On the other end of the scale, to be the title sponsor of a major summer festival can cost 300,000. But many brand owners still make the mistake of simply badging their name onto the event and doing little else. Jam in the Park, featuring the band Jamiroquai, sponsored by sunglasses maker Ray-Ban, has been accused of just that. “Ray-Ban’s sponsorship was naive,” says a senior music sponsorship executive. “It did little more than put its name under the Jamiroquai symbol. It should have attempted to do something fun to add to the event, like setting up a giant pair of floating sunglasses. When you add to the event in this way, you get noticed without being classed as intrusive.”

Peta Thorniley, senior brand manager at Ray-Ban, admits this was the brand’s first major music festival event in the UK, and although it is still evaluating the show, she rejects the idea that the day was a missed opportunity.

“We were happy with the way it went. Our objectives were to present Ray-Ban to the audience, the artists, and to the cable TV viewers at home,” she says.

Timing was a crucial part of the brand becoming involved with this festival, Thorniley explains. “We wanted something in June. That is the start of the sunglasses season.”

She says all the musicians received goody bags containing a pair of Ray-Bans. And when the stars were interviewed backstage by MTV and other music channels that transmitted across Europe, many wore the glasses. “That gave us tremendous exposure which would be hard to buy,” adds Thorniley.

One managing director of a luxury goods company, which has a three-year contract to sponsor a summer jazz festival, says he will be pressing the event to sign better-known stars this year.

Most sponsors’ agents claim this kind of interference from the sponsor is unusual. Mathieson comments: “If a sponsor does something like that, it will be treading on the feet of experienced music bookers who have years of experience putting concert bills together.”

However, Thorniley says Jamiroquai appearing along with four other “strong” acts was a condition of Ray-Ban’s involvement. “We would have had to do some renegotiating if for any reason Jamiroquai had dropped out,” she says.

If Ray-Ban had dropped out, there is no doubt other sponsors would have been quick to take its place. But for the first time this summer, brand owners which believed that sponsoring festivals was a clever way of targeting media-weary young audiences, may well find the festival world just as cluttered as traditional media.

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