The decision by smoothie brand Innocent Drinks to axe its annual Fruitstock festival after four years (MW last week) appears on the face of it to be a bizarre – if not foolhardy – decision.
Last year’s event attracted a record 120,000 visitors and its blend of live music, homespun market stalls and smoothie tasting gave the company an attractive alternative to sponsorship at high-profile music festivals, such as Glastonbury and Virgin’s V.
Fruitstock, observers say, encapsulated Innocent’s brand values. It was fun and ethical and like the smoothies, it attracted legions of new fans every year.
The decision to halt proceedings is perhaps all the more remarkable given that music festival branding, be it through sponsorship or brands creating their own events, is an increasingly valued marketing tool. Unilever’s Ben & Jerry’s, Volvic and O2, are among a slew of brands sponsoring or running high-profile music festivals.
So what prompted Innocent to trade in Fruitstock, which is free of charge and last year featured bands including Arrested Development, for a more low-key summer of village fetes? Paul Samuels, chief executive of sports and entertainment marketing firm The Bonham Group Europe, believes Fruitstock was in danger of becoming mass market and a departure from what it set out to be.
Samuels, who was previously head of sponsorship of O2, says/ “I went last year and was confused over whether it was supposed to be a music festival or an Innocent festival.” He adds that mass-market festivals create their own problems, such as the involvement of local councils.
Mike Mathieson, chief executive of Cake, says/ “I think Fruitstock got too big and councils get nervous when you’re too big.” Others speculate that Innocent, which markets itself as a highly ethical brand, wanted to distance itself from any suspicion that it would be tempted to take on corporate sponsorship to help fund the event.
Innocent says it decided against running Fruitstock because it wanted to get “back to basics” and keep it “nice and simple”. The smoothie brand also says it wanted to take the focus away from the music, although the company will not be drawn on further details.
Ian Irving, sales and marketing director of Sledge, which is handling the marketing and promotion for this year’s village fete drive, says: “The village fete concept was a natural progression for Innocent that was in keeping with the brand. Village fetes are all about community, the outdoors, raising money for good local causes.”
Innocent, along with Red Bull and its global sporting events, have won admiration for creating their own festivals. But while such events are few and far between, experts believe more brands are preparing to go down this road.
Mark Boyd, director of content at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, believes the rewards from such undertakings are plentiful. “There are plenty of events that brands can attach themselves to, but few bespoke events,” he says. “Brands are now looking to create a much deeper experience.”
But he admits that the risks associated with self-created events are high compared with sponsoring a well-established event. “Music is a well-trodden route, and it often says more about the artist rather than the brand itself. The greatest rewards are for those events you control.”
Innocent says it expects no more than 60,000 people to attend its flagship village fete event in Regent’s Park this year, half the number that attended Fruitstock last year. The company will take the project on the road, with a tour of village fetes across the country.
Time will tell whether scaling back the flagship event will help or hinder Innocent’s efforts to increase awareness of the brand.