Keeping in harmony

There are conflicting messages from the public about their experience of brand sponsorship of music events, but marketers would do well to keep their communications in tune with the festivals’ values

Rock Ness has been and gone; Glastonbury is upon us; Creamfields tickets are selling fast. Festival season is in full swing and brands large and small fall over each other as they battle to engage fans. Pick a demographic, any demographic, and there is an event that delivers it in quantity, from Fleadh to Glyndebourne. What more could a marketer want than a captive audience with known tastes?Frequently exposed to music every day, most of us like at least one genre. Music often defines us. Few activities have the power to influence or emotionally engage individuals or groups in the way music can. How do groups from the Women’s Institute through political parties at conferences, to football fans bond? They sing.

Brands that use music correctly can achieve the ultimate consumer buy-in. But, many do not realise the full potential from their investment in music sponsorship.

Space surveyed festival-goers at the events and afterwards through a series of online questionnaires to assess their views on brands’ involvement in music through the sponsorship of festivals, and of the music industry in general.

Marketers will be happy to learn that 87% of festival-goers welcome event sponsors. This is a much more positive attitude than that found among football supporters. Rather than resenting corporate involvement, music fans appreciate that many festivals would struggle to exist without financial input from the commercial world.

But it is not all good news. If a specific festival element or facility is sponsored, fans do not recognise the brand as supplying or even adding to the experience. A significant proportion – 54% – are perceived by respondents as being “here to just sell us stuff”.

But music fans are not adverse to event sponsors: 42% say they would like brands to be more involved at the grass-roots level of music, and 21% say they think brands that want to be perceived as having a credible relationship with music events should be more involved in seeking out new talent and acts.

Fans might recognise that festivals need sponsors’ money, but they claim not to engage with the donors. Only 3% of fans say they have entered a music campaign as a consumer at a music event.

There are three possible explanations behind this. Fans might be engaging with brands without being aware of doing so; they may have got involved but are reluctant to admit it because of connotations of “selling out”; or – least palatable – it might be that they really don’t get involved with brands, for whatever reason. Take for instance a sponsored tent of refreshments: people may just not notice the branding; they may use it but not admit to it – which raises all manner of questions concerning their reluctance – or, for a variety of reasons, they might walk straight past. None of these possibilities is encouraging for brand owners.

We asked fans what sponsors should be giving them. Free music and free tickets was cited by 73% – interesting because this is what fans already receive in most cases. Another frequently heard view offers some clues: “It’s not so much what they do, more the way they do it,” according to more than 25% of fans interviewed.

It seems that target audiences are being turned off because they do not see brands as being true either to their own brand values or to those of the consumers they are targeting. According to 28% of respondents, commercial sponsors concentrate too much on mainstream music, in search of big returns, to the detriment of specific or niche genres.

Where there is cut-through, it tends to come from focusing on a music type for psychographic rather than demographic reasons. This is particularly true among younger, strongly “tribal” fans. Brands wanting to communicate to consumers through music sponsorship should take note that 35% of respondents say they want sponsors to understand fans more.

How consumers view brands’ sponsorship of music events certainly influences opinions surrounding music and sponsorship. It is perhaps disheartening for brands to learn that a significant 38% of respondents say music means less than it used to. However, it is a little more promising to learn that only 12% perceive music to be little more than “an industry”.

The more personalised and intimate the brand’s communication, the greater the payback for music sponsors. This is hardly news to marketers, so why do music fans feel the need to say it? Something in the world of music sponsorship is striking a discordant note.

David Atkinson, managing partner of Space, contributed to this week’s Trends Insight

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