Brand managers get almost as excited about the summer music festival calendar rocking into action as the many 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 more creative ways to engage consumers rather than simply interrupting them with traditional advertising.
But festival organisers have also been quick to realise 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.
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, but when negotiating, we position the brand activity as adding value to the event to get the best deal,” he says.
Organisers argue prices have increased because there are strict health and safety obligations to be met and there has been investment in indoor facilities for when it rains. There are also extra security costs to reduce petty crime.
“Due to the dramatic increase in costs, 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 the goodwill of 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.
Auditing and research company TKD Europe, who has worked with Motorola and MTV on the Campus Invasion event in Germany, assesses which live events are suitable for which brands.
“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 much more 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 02 with its Wireless festival in London and Leeds have realised, it enables brands to keep 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 to capture more data at live events,” says LoewyBe business development director Andrew Mitchell. “But consumers want to see how the brand is adding value. This might be asking people to opt-in to text alerts during a festival.”
Indeed, 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 mobile networks, and the use of mobiles is expected to grow over the next couple of years.
More than marketing
Research company Millward Brown believes brands are more sensitive to the views and attitudes of fans.
“Brands understand it is acceptable to be providing a valuable service contributing to the event,” says Millward Brown’s director Ross Urquhart. “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,” he says.
Of course, there are outdoor events not linked to music, and there is plenty of official and ambush marketing around these. One is the FIFA World Cup, another is the London Marathon where CPM’s rebranded experiential division Mango created the Lucozade Sports Performance Zone for consumers to sample the products and take a fitness test.
Consumers will accept brands 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.