The 2007 UK summer festival circuit was the largest ever. With about 470 events grouped into categories such as boutique, dance, family and one-day, as well as established headliners such as Glastonbury and V Festival, brands headed outdoors to target some of the hardest-to-reach consumer demographics, brought together by the lure of live music and entertainment.
This year, the number of music festivals shows no sign of decline and, despite concerns in 2007 about brand saturation, the advertiser's appetite to engage with the festival audience continues to increase.
In 2006, communications agency Space canvassed 2,000 visitors to 10 festivals to determine how consumers relate to advertiser activity. Managing partner David Atkinson says: "There is a perceived need for brands to be at festivals, so advertising has never been viewed as a negative by the consumer.
"That said, there is huge potential for advertisers to fall flat on their faces if they adopt a mass-marketing approach. The festival scene has grown rapidly to serve tribes that exist within the audience. Advertisers must consider the different expectations."
According to Space's research, brands with longer-term relationships receive a more positive consumer response. Festival sponsors Carling, Virgin and O2 were considered synonymous with music, while 78% of visitors surveyed stated that brand association with music was a good thing.
On the flip side, however, only 3% of respondents reported that they had knowingly taken part in branded activity.
Atkinson believes this indicates a passive awareness to brand involvement, but he expects the figure to rise sharply this summer as Space returns to nine festivals to carry out comparable research in more saturated brand environments.
The options for advertiser involvement with festivals range from media tie-ups, sponsorship and outdoor marketing to experiential and product sampling. O2 teamed up with Live Nation in 2005 and established the O2 Wireless festival, while brands such as Innocent, Ben & Jerry's and Nickelodeon stage their own events using specialist agencies such as Sledge and Cake.
Nick Jr's free Jump Up festival takes place at the Milton Keynes Bowl from 25 to 27 July. Last year, 15,000 children and parents snapped up all the tickets in just 30 minutes, to engage with Nick Jr characters in 10 entertainment zones dedicated to the likes of Dora the Explorer and Bob the Builder.
This year, sponsored by Vauxhall's Zafira and Meriva family cars, Jump Up is set to almost double the 12,000 attendance achieved on its debut in 2005.
Nickelodeon's vice-president for planning and presentation Andy Goodhand says: "We work with Sledge to produce our live brand activity, as this allows us to give something back to our viewers. Ticket registration via the website creates a dialogue and impact is measured by the word of mouth it generates. This is a more expensive media activity, but with Vauxhall's commercial partnership deal in place, it's a more justified way for us to produce richer, more engaging content."
Successful festival brand activity involves a 360-degree approach, often backed up by strong digital customer relationship management (CRM). This is reflected by a more rounded offer from across the agency spectrum.
Justin Stark is head of CBS Impact, the creative solutions division of CBS Outdoor. His remit is to offer clients bespoke advertising. For Play.com last year, this involved a campaign of station domination whereby the brand took over poster sites at the railway station nearest to Glastonbury, costing a minimum media spend of £40,000 for a two-week presence.
Stark says: "This was a high-impact approach because visitors to Glastonbury are more environmentally aware, which positively encourages their use of public transport. There is considerable dwell-time at festival stations, so we encourage brands to engage with the audience and deliver something that basic story ads can't. This may involve setting up a sponsored entertainment stage in the station car park."
Bread and butter
He adds: "Posters and banners remain our bread and butter, but we're well-positioned to support outdoor marketing with experiential in order to offer depth, as opposed to just breadth, of communication."
Media tie-ups have often led advertisers to the door of IPC Ignite, the home of NME.com. Last year, Sony Ericsson's Ibiza Rocks activity produced by Iris Experience generated 4.1 million page impressions and 70,000 unique users to the NME website.
IPC Ignite sponsorship and solutions director Peter Edwards says: "Traffic to NME.com spikes over the summer as consumers rely on the most trusted band information source. As a media partner, we add to the consumer experience both pre and post event."
Traditional media agencies have responded to advertiser demand for live marketing by setting up dedicated divisions to compete for experiential contracts. For example, Omnicom has made a big commitment to its OMD Fuse division, which focuses on advertiser-funded projects, sports marketing and experiential.
Philip Holliday, head of OMD Fuse UK, says: "The growth in festivals makes them an interesting space for more targeted opportunities, and the big media planning agencies now realise that experiential is a massive growth area. It allows us to plug into existing deals with committed advertising spend behind them.
"Creative agencies have always had these divisions, but never invested, as it's harder for them without the necessary support network. I believe there is room for both specialist experiential agencies and media planning agencies to dominate this space."
Nick Leonard, strategic partnership director of Newcast, the non-traditional media division set up last year by ZenithOptimedia, agrees. "An association with music creates real brand emotion. With consumers expecting more from advertising, there is room for everyone to evolve the concept of the festival brand experience."
However, traditional media outfits are still a long way behind the game compared to experiential agencies. RPM has evolved Strongbow's festival activity over 10 years (see box below), while Cake is on its fourth consecutive Ben & Jerry's Sundae on the Common. And at this year's Rock Ness, Isle of Wight, V, Reading and Leeds festivals, Cake is swapping warm beer for cold through the Carling Cold Beer Amnesty.
Cake chief executive Mike Mathieson believes that, if an advertiser is new to the experiential arena, it should "start small, grow activity year on year and earn its stripes".
"Ben & Jerry's started out as a one-day event on Clapham Common, but it is now a whole weekend attracting 30,000 people," he says.
"Beer brands are considered major festival sponsors and therefore have to work much harder to leverage value. The Carling Cold Beer Amnesty is a cost-effective way to engage consumers, particularly in the campsite areas."
The Ibiza Rocks series of concerts produced by Iris Experience is also four years old. Each year, Sony Ericsson has upped headline advertising spend, which now stands at a reported £1m.
For 2008, Iris Experience is trying to exploit sponsorship value in the UK. Cameron Day, Iris Experience new business development director, says: "We've enhanced the content of Ibizarocks.com to include gig footage and faster updates, and we'll be staging four Sony Ericsson Ibiza Rocks parties across the UK this summer.
"Each year we evaluate the media partnerships with NME.com, Xfm and MySpace and develop the concept. This year, there's increased merchandising and JJ Stereo is producing 10 TV programmes for Channel 4, featuring Ibiza Rocks music and interviews."
Experiential agency Sledge has developed Innocent's free festival in Regent's Park into a second year of the Innocent Village Fete. Sledge sales and marketing director Ian Irving believes that events should encourage marketing partnerships to create brand eco-systems that cater for the increased demand for brand involvement.
Among the brands signed up to this year's Innocent Village Fete from 2 to 3 August are Puffin Books, Yorkshire Tea and The Natural Confectionery Company, each occupying their own experience zone.
Irving says: "It was a bold step to allow in other brands, in case they stole Innocent's limelight. But by giving like-minded brands access, they can experience an involvement in live marketing that may lead to further stand-alone properties. According to in-house research, every person who experiences Innocent tells between five and nine others, making word of mouth a key ingredient."
Sledge is also responsible for O2's Wireless activity, which this year involves the launch of O2 Wireless roadshows across the country. O2 head of sponsorship, events and interactive partnerships Mark Stevenson says: "We've extended the franchise to cover five Wireless weekends in major cities. The events have an undiscovered theme, which embraces all aspects of the music industry from grass roots to glory.
"This year's Wireless festival in Hyde Park in July will see an enlarged, more accessible Blueroom VIP area. However, O2 network customers will still receive priority treatment and extra incentives."
With so many brands vying to be a part of the festival circuit, the debate surrounding successful audience measurement remains vocal. Specialist experiential agencies all agree with the sentiment summed up by Iris Experience's Day.
He says: "Live marketing achieves its reach by how it lives and breathes. A joined-up approach comprising media spend, word of mouth, digital and broadcast are the platforms brands should adopt when bringing their propositions to life."
- £40,000 the minimum media spend for a two-week poster campaign at Glastonbury's nearest station
- 78% of 2,000 festival-goers surveyed by Sledge said brand association with music was a good thing
- 4.1 million page impressions were generated by Iris Experience's Ibiza Rocks activity for Sony Ericsson
Strongbow Live marketing is key part of First Pint Refreshment brand building
Strongbow is celebrating a decade of live activity at festivals this summer through the launch of the Bowtime Bar.
Experiential agency RPM has joined Strongbow's three core agencies - WWAV Rapp Collins, St Luke's and Starcom MediaVest - to translate the "Total First Pint Refreshment" campaign across digital CRM, above the line and experiential.
According to Strongbow brand manager Fiona Seath, this is the first time all four agencies have worked so closely together across a campaign, and RPM's seat at the head table marks the integral role live marketing plays within Strongbow's media mix.
RPM has evolved Strongbow's festival presence from the Loafing Lounge of the late '90s through the recent era of the Cider House dance music structure.
Launched at June's Isle of Wight festival and appearing at the V Festivals in Chelmsford and Stafford-shire from 16 to 17 August, the Bowtime Bar brings the proposition of "Bowtime" moments of self-reward to life.
RPM client services director Dom Robertson says: "It's a place to celebrate some well-earned time off with your mates. The bars offer a fast, perfect serve, in keeping with the first pint refreshment theme. Exclusive live bands ensure the area is a destination in its own right and we've built a photo wall to capture those Bowtime moments.
"Bowtime supports a tactical customer relationship management campaign where visitors can text for a free pint and we have worked with Facebook and MySpace groups. We even take the concept into the festival campsites to reward visitors for erecting their tents with a free pint."
Strongbow's Seath concedes that cider's small market share compared to beer means activity has to focus on getting consumers into the right frame of mind for cider.
She says: "It's about creating dialogue and then measuring word of mouth. After a 10-year association with music and festivals, it's fantastic to see the excitement build across the social networking sites.
"If done correctly and as part of a joined-up strategy, experiential creates real brand advocacy. Just because it can't be measured as rate per thousand, its importance shouldn't be undervalued."