In the halcyon days of 1970, the Glastonbury festival cost just one pound to enter, and for your money you’d not only get to laze to the trippy sounds of Marc Bolan’s T-Rex, but drink as much free milk from the cows grazing around you as you could stomach.
How times change: It cost this writer £155 to squeeze into this summer’s event, headlined by New York rapper Jay-Z. And free drink? Buy a branded beer from the innumerable on site bars and you’ll be lucky to see change from a fiver.
From small acorns, a money tree has grown. The hippie crowd which once swayed along to Ride a White Swan has vanished in favour of an affluent mainstream audience hollering aloud to Jay’s – largely unprintable – lyrics.
Glastonbury is just one of a plethora of music festivals up and down the country, many dominated by the presence of brands keen to milk a cash cow.
They range from boutique events set in lush surrounds owing little to the original festival ethos, to mega fests dominated by corporate sponsors and big name acts.
With myriad events vying against each other, it is becoming tougher for organisers to gain standout in a cluttered marketplace. Gary Pitt, managing partner of brand experience consultancy GetinBed, says the current festival boom has been “driven by new and existing promoters joining the gold rush.” He warns that: “Similar to the clubbing boom of the mid 90s, the rapid expansion in the festival market will give way to a consolidation of the market where only the strong events survive”.
He believes we’re already beginning to see this, “with many festivals suffering from poor ticket sales and in some cases being cancelled.”
Among those which struggled to sell out this summer was Glastonbury, with tickets still available just days before the event. The festival’s organiser, Michael Eavis, says all tickets did go eventually, but he admitted it had been a “struggle” compared to the instant clamour of previous years.
To achieve standout requires an intricate mix of creativity, PR, press, direct marketing, online marketing, above-the-line marketing and pricing.
Yet, according to Jim Shearer, head of sponsorship at perennial festival brand Carling, it’s really easy for brands to come in and just badge an event. “But that would be missing the point,” he argues. “If you’re a headline sponsor, you have to realise that whatever happens at that event, for better or worse, you’re going to be associated with it. There’s a certain amount of crisis management.”
Carling will have a presence at V Festival’s twin sites in Stafford and Chelmsford later this summer, and the lager brand was in attendance at June events Rock Ness and the Isle of Wight festival. Up until last year, Carling also notably enjoyed headline sponsorship at long-running August festival fixtures Reading and Leeds.
“One of the biggest misconceptions is that Carling sells loads of beer at festivals,” Shearer dismisses. “We don’t, but we see being involved more for its experiential value. We know though, for it to be successful, we have to add value to the festival goer’s experience, as we do with our Cold Beer Amnesty – allowing revellers to swap any warm beer for a cold Carling.”
Shearer hopes this warms people to the brand, but at base level, the idea is of course to take rival beer cans out of consumers’ hands and replace them with Carling.
Sera Miller, managing partner at Material – who works extensively with T in The Park Festival in Scotland, says that partnership is the key word to any headline sponsor. “Highly successful relationships come from a position of shared understanding and goals with a commitment to the success of the festival,” says Miller.
“To truly lever headline partnerships, brands must align both their proposition and values to the festival, creating channels that communicate these synergies to consumers. The brand then becomes positioned at the heart of the event, adding value at every level, an intrinsic part of the experience and embedded in the memories of the consumers. It’s also key to maximise rights and benefits, taking execution through-the-line, relating it back to the overall brand strategy and ensuring every touch point and opportunity is utilised to interact with consumers through this shared passion and platform.”
Kopparberg, the growing cider brand, has also developed a strategy for this year’s festival season. And despite its relatively new position in the market, Davin Nugent, Kopparberg’s UK MD, believes that the strategy will work. “The festival circuit is very cluttered, with many brands trying to stake a claim to some part of it,” Nugent explains.
“Gaining standout has become more difficult but it is not impossible. It is key to provide some added value to the festivals which we support – just selling stock is not what it’s about. It is important that when given the opportunity to sample so many of our target market in one place, the full personality of the brand should be communicated.”
With this in mind, Kopparberg has created the One Big Tree installation, a pavilion bar which features session music with DJs and instrumentalists jamming together at Bestival and Connect festivals to act as a meeting place for festival goers to relax and enjoy the brand.
“It is not enough just to lend your logo to a festival,” continues Nugent. “There needs to be a real connection for it to be worthwhile participating.”
This year, Manchester agency Momentum will have a hand in establishing lager brand Tuborg’s presence at several UK festivals.
Planning director, Ben Leonard, says adding something “positive and relevant” to the revellers’ experience is essential to guarantee their brand recall once the event is over.
“In the past we set up a festival tent for Jack Daniel’s. With there being so many rival alcohol brands on show, we provided entertainment and subsidised food inside and made the tent a really relaxed, sociable environment where weary festival goers could chill out and have a good time.”
While festivals are dominated by drinks brands and food outlets catering for attendees’ seemingly unquenchable thirst – for alcohol, largely - and hunger, Leonard believes the environment can suit a variety of clients. “Wrangler had a great idea in the past,” he recalls, “they set up a laundry and replaced people’s filthy denims with crisp, branded Wranglers while their muddy pairs were washed. What an easy way to get your brand out there – and free of the cynicism that accompanies commercial endorsement because Wrangler was serving a purpose to the attendees.
“This opens the doors for brands you wouldn’t perhaps expect at a festival – personal hygiene brands such as Colgate and Lynx could take advantage of attendees’ lack of washing facilities; likewise toilet and shower brands.”
Ultimately though, however creatively brands approach their task, GMFCo’s Louise Adam believes festival sponsors enjoy very little flexibility. “The promoter wins, wins and wins,” she says. “Sponsors are restricted by the individual promoter agreements made with the other brands, concessionaires, Health & Safety, Local Council and by licensing laws.”
It all sounds a far cry from the free-lovin’ ideals of the ‘long-hairs’ who started the first festivals. In the eyes of music aficionados, some of these events have had to sell out – not just tickets but their soul – to stay afloat.
Still, lounge up at Glastonbury’s ‘sacred’ stone circle to watch the sunrise, with bedraggled revellers crashed out on the grass everywhere you look, and suddenly the original free-spirit ethos doesn’t seem too hazy a memory after all – even if everything else does.