Corona, Innocent and AEG on what it takes to launch a music festival

As the Summer festival season comes to a close, Marketing Week asks marketers whether it’s worth the risk trying to create the next Glastonbury.

Black Sabbath headlining Hyde Park’s British Summer Time festival back in 2014

With brands from John Lewis to Guinness now putting their names to annual music festivals, it’s clear more and more marketers are looking to enter the events business.

Last year alone, an impressive 30.9 million people attended gigs and festivals in the UK. This was a 12% rise on 2015’s figure of 27.7m, according to a survey by UK Music. Of this 30.9 million figure, it claims four million people specifically attended festivals.

A big proportion of this audience is made up of millennials, making an association with a festival a golden opportunity for brands to target young consumers they sometimes struggle to speak to. But despite the fact branded activations at festivals can appear like the antithesis of cool to many millennials, Will Dowdy, VP of global partnerships at AEG, says perceptions are changing.

“When people attend festivals they are looking to create lifelong memories,” he says. “So while they might be cynical of traditional logo sponsorship, if a brand is adding real value to their experience then they can be receptive. Brands have an opportunity to be tied into those lifelong memories.”

AEG acquired the rights to hold festivals in Hyde Park back in 2012 and has run the British Summer Time (BST) Festival on behalf of The Royal Parks group ever since. Sponsored by Barclaycard and filled with experiential pop-ups from brand partners such as Heineken, Tinder and Bacardi, it’s a festival that on paper appears more corporate than edgy.

If consumers think you’re just trying to sell something then they see through it. Providing a unique festival experience has to be the priority.

Aina Fuller, AB InBev

However, the British Summer Time Festival has proven to be very successful, attracting big name artists such as Taylor Swift, Stevie Wonder and Kendrick Lamar. Spread over 10 days, the festival counted Justin Bieber and Phil Collins among its headliners this year as it sold in excess of 350,000 tickets and its attendance rose 14.5% year on year.

Dowdy says the festival’s brand partners achieve an 83% brand recall from attendees, with 50% of attendees aged between 16 and 35 choosing to participate in a brand activation on site. “It’s about giving them something extra, whether that’s a brand rewarding them on site or letting them sit in an extraordinary pop-up space,” he advises.

“When you get results like 74% of people coming away from BST saying our partner space has actually improved their experience then those numbers speak for themselves. It tells you what a huge opportunity music festivals can provide for brands looking to engage with young people beyond advertising.”

Creating a branded festival

Dancers at Corona’s global SunSets festival

It isn’t just the sponsorship side of festivals that can be appealing to brands either, with many choosing to host their own. Corona’s SunSets festival, which debuted in Summer 2014, now covers 10 different countries with annual dates in cities such as London, Cape Town and Tokyo.

Focused around dance music, SunSets aims to turn urban city environments into a tropical beach environment. Previous UK iterations, for example, have turned the Greenwich Peninsula into a beach using 400 tonnes of sand.

Aina Fuller, UK marketing manager for the AB InBev-owned Mexican beer brand, says 67% of Corona SunSets’ attendees are 25 to 34 years old, with the brand selling 34,100 bottles of beer at last year’s festival.

“Launching SunSets was a really natural progression because Corona has always been a brand that has put experience at the heart of our advertising,” says Fuller, citing research that claims 80% of millennials prefer to spend their money on experiences over material goods. “We just wanted to leverage that experience into something more real.”

She says one of the best things to come out of the festival is Corona’s ties with music, with 68% of Brits now associating the brand with music. “We have one of the highest brand associations with music and since starting the festival we’ve over-indexed in selling to the more affluent beer drinkers. I believe these festival experiences have worked in terms of making sure we recruit the right kind of consumer and brand loyalty.”

Taking a long-term approach

However, Fuller admits launching a music festival must be a long-term commitment for it to truly work. She admits Corona sees SunSets as more of a brand loyalty-building opportunity than a money-making one. “If consumers think you’re just trying to sell something then they see through it. Providing a unique experience has to be the priority.”

Jamie Sterry, head of marketing planning and strategy at Innocent UK, goes one further: “If you want to make a profit, don’t get into festivals – end of story!”

Innocent’s Un:plugged festival opted for a ‘digital detox’ vibe aimed at younger people

Innocent has launched several now-defunct music festivals over the years from Fruitstock to Village Fete. Its most recent stab at the festival scene was Un:plugged, which during 2015 and 2016 included celebrities such as Mr. Motivator, attracted 4,000 attendees and had a total PR value of over £1m from a spend of just £30,000.

According to Sterry, Un:plugged connected with Innocent smoothie drinkers on a “deeper level and was a far more interesting way for younger people to discover Innocent versus a conventional TV advert.” The reality, however, is Unplugged had to take a break this year while Innocent considers whether to bring it back.

As part of a brand that’s not always succeeded at hosting music festivals over the years, Sterry advises: “Festivals are hard work so you have to find an original idea, stay true to it no matter what and work with a team of great people.

“Brands are in the luxurious position of having marketing budgets, so rather than focusing on making a profit from a festival, they must focus on doing something true to their brand that will resonate with their audience. That’s the best way of getting noticed.”

Festivals are a long-term commitment and it isn’t always going to be easy – you need to have the stomach to lose some money in the first few years.

Will Dowdy, AEG

From Bestival to Glastonbury and Parklife, there’s no shortage of high-profile summer festivals for Brits to choose from. Therefore, brands looking to get involved in the space must work with artists that can make the right kind of statement

“What’s always key for festivals, it goes without saying, is having the right artists,” explains AEG’s Dowdy. “It doesn’t have to be the biggest artists in the world but the right ones for the brand. If the artists don’t fit with your values then you’re in big trouble. Sometimes aiming for a small immersive festival experience is better than aiming for a blockbuster one.”

Depending on your perspective, Apple either stopped running its annual iTunes London festival back in September because it wasn’t making money or because it simply ran its course. But even if it was the former, Dowdy says brands that have the “stomach” for festivals will make money eventually.

He concludes: “Festivals are a long-term commitment and it isn’t always going to be easy – you need to have the stomach to lose some money in the first few years. But speaking from experience, if you have the right kind of passion you’ll turn the corner and start to make money eventually.”

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