Don’t crash at the party

Music festivals and live events are fertile ground for brands wanting to extend their reach. Studies show people welcome such marketing, but only if it adds to the event experience. By Steve Hemsley

Brand managers get as excited about the summer music festival calendar rocking into action as the thousands of fans flocking to see their favourite bands perform.

The role of field and experiential marketing at these and other outdoor events is becoming increasingly important as brands search for creative ways to engage consumers rather than simply interrupting them with traditional advertising.

From the Isle of Wight Festival this month to Creamfields at the end of August, marketers know they can target the outdoor music-goer according to the event they choose. The Reading Festival appeals more to students, for example, while Glastonbury, which is taking a break this year, has a much broader appeal.

But festival organisers have realised how valuable their own brand properties have become to face-to-face marketers, and so the expense of implementing activity such as sampling has risen considerably.

Brands and bands

David Atkinson, managing partner of brand experience company Space, claims the cost of attending some of the top music festivals has almost doubled since 2001. He says brands can strike a better deal if they wait until a few weeks before the first band tunes up, but he expects a backlash next year against rising prices.

“If the costs become more ludicrous to negotiate, the brands with history and clout will start to collaborate to drive down costs with organisers and media owners,” he says. “After all, many of these brands have been through a similar experience in the football market.” RPM new business director Cameron Day says brands planning experiential campaigns must budget between £20,000 and £50,000 for a basic site fee with limited facilities. “Costs do rise every year and must be managed. We tend to work on three-year rolling contracts and, when negotiating, we position the brand activity as adding value to the event to get the best deal,” he says.

The organisers argue prices have had to increase because music festivals are much more sophisticated these days and there is a greater need for logistical support, which has to be paid for. Indeed, the sector has certainly moved on from the days of simply offering people a muddy field with a stage in the middle and basic toilets. Today there are strict health and safety obligations to be met and there has been investment in indoor facilities for when it rains. Events have also had extra security costs to stamp out petty crime.

“Due to the dramatic increase in the charges made for individual stalls to offset logistical expenditure, brands must think carefully about which events they go to and the value they offer,” says David Foster, managing director of events company Raisley. “It’s often the case that the larger the festival, the less chance there is to utilise the real benefit of live marketing. Sometimes the need to deal with very large numbers of consumers can have a negative effect.”

If face-to-face marketers are to heed Foster’s advice to achieve better value for money in what is becoming a cluttered market, they may need to spend more of their clients’ budget on research to decide which events to attend. They may also need to invest more in measurement tools to assess the full effect of previous campaigns.

Among the brands that have won over festival-goers by tailoring and evolving their experiential activity over the years, often by linking it to their wider sponsorship deals, are Strongbow, Carling, Orange and Budweiser.

As well as spending time researching the demographic profile of particular events, agencies and clients should also note which other brands will be there – not just their competitors – and what experiential activity they carried out in previous years, and whether it worked.

Motorola way

Auditing and research company TKD Europe will assess which live events are suitable for which brands. It has worked with Motorola around its sponsorship of the Black Eyed Peas on the band’s Baltic Tour, and with Motorola and MTV on the Campus Invasion event in Germany.

“It is vital to study venues closely, but the decision should not be taken on cost alone,” says TKD research director Mark Bagnall. “This is about matching the brand’s positioning to an event. Usually this is established through the long-term monitoring of what kind of consumers and other brands are attracted to a particular festival and what face-to-face activity has and has not been successful in the past.”

Bagnall adds that one of the biggest developments has been for brands to create their own music events around which experiential and field marketing can be incorporated. This does require a high level of capital funding, but as brands such as Innocent Drinks with its Fruitstock jazz gathering, and 02 with its Wireless festival in London and Leeds have realised, it is an approach that enables brands to keep complete control.

Agency LoewyBe uses focus groups to marry a live event with the message a brand is trying to convey. It wants its clients to use festivals for long-term brand building rather than purely as a medium to sample a new product. “There is also an opportunity for experiential marketers to capture more data at live events, but this has to be done in such a way that consumers can see how brands are adding value. This might be asking people to opt in to text alerts during a festival,” says business development director Andrew Mitchell.

Indeed, taking advantage of mobile technology is another way to maximise value from experiential marketing at festivals. Last year’s Glastonbury was the first where brands could exploit 3G networks, and the creative use of mobiles is one area that will grow over the next couple of years.

Great outdoors

The Live Brand Experience Association is currently working with research company Millward Brown to help agencies and brands achieve better value from their activity at outdoor events. Millward Brown’s Demand and Activation tool provides insight from qualitative and quantitative research to explain why music fans sampled or interacted with a product or brand while they were in the mindset of wanting to relax and listen to music. The research can also indicate what effect any experiential activity ultimately had on sales.

Global development director Gordon Pincott says it has been difficult in the past to measure the return on investment from face-to-face marketing at live events. “Many marketers believe their experiential marketing in this context will only have an impact on short-term sales. Our evaluation shows that trial and sampling also makes a powerful contribution to long-term demand,” he says. “Music events are an opportunity to create a buzz around a product which will lead to a rise in market share the following year.”

A few years ago many music fans saw the involvement of any brand at a festival as an intrusion. Yet the emergence of more creative face-to-face activity that adds real value to the occasion has changed this perception.

B plus V

“Many festival-goers look to see what brands are involved in the event and actually look forward to what experiences they will be offering on site,” says Mike Mathieson, chief executive of brand experience agency Cake. He cites the example of Bacardi’s B-Bar (pictured) at the V Festival where cocktails and DJs have mixed together for years. The B-Bar is now something of a tradition at the festival and attendees expect to see it.

For brands to be really accepted they need to follow Bacardi’s example and be regarded as part of the infrastructure of an event. Agency Iris Experience works with clients such as Sony Ericsson, L’Oréal and Budweiser at music-based events, and director Ross Urquhart believes brands are now more sensitive to the views and attitudes of fans.

“Brands understand it is acceptable to be providing a valuable service contributing to the event, meeting the needs of fans. However, they also realise just giving out free samples may be welcomed by some in the audience but it is still despised by many. It can be seen as capitalising on the event without giving anything back,” says Urquhart.

In tune with the audience

Of course there are plenty of other summer live events that are not linked to music. There is the FIFA World Cup around which official and ambush experiential and field marketing will take place. Other big events this year have included the London Marathon where CPM’s rebranded experiential division Mango created the Lucozade Sports Performance Zone so consumers could sample the products and take advantage of a fitness test.

Consumers will accept brands sitting alongside them at live events when their minds are on music, rather than shopping, as long as they are convinced the activity they are subjected to brings something to the party.

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