On the eve of the Electric Picnic in Stradbally, Niall Brennan, account director with B&A offers some insights into how brands can and should show up at festivals.
From the well-established Electric Picnic and Bloom to newcomers like Beyond the Pale, Summer 2023 has been abuzz with festivals across Ireland. The industry has bounced back post pandemic, with the increasing number of festivals in Ireland each year being matched by strong consumer demand. Even the persistent rain and wind this summer was not enough to put festival-goers off in Ireland. Irish festival-goers are a hardy bunch!
Getting Up Close and Personal with Festival-Goers
As part of B&A’s ongoing commitment to in house research initiatives, we decided to dive headfirst into the world of festival-goers this Summer. To do this, we recruited a diverse range of festival-goers and got them to document their time at a festival they planned on attending using videos and pictures – and then to create a ‘festival scrapbook’ of their experience. This creative approach gave us as researchers at B&A a ‘fly on the wall’ angle into the festival experiences that attendees actually have. The highs, the lows, the memories, as well as understanding which brands managed to really connect with them and why. This hands-on approach to research, uncovered seven key insights for brands from the Summer 2023 festival season.
Insight 1: ‘Expected Brands’ Often Need Extra Effort
When thinking about brands presence at a festival, attendees often differentiate between ‘expected’ festival brands and ‘unexpected’ festival brands in their minds. ‘Expected’ brands are the ones that attendees have seen at festivals before or ones that they anticipate being there (particularly the alcohol brands). ‘Unexpected’ brands at festivals are the ones that force attendees to look twice – often catching attendees off guard.
A key finding from this research was that ‘expected’ festival brands can sometimes fade into the background unless they present themselves in a novel and engaging manner. To ensure that these ‘expected’ brands are getting good bang for their buck, they need to continually go beyond presence and consider how they can make an emotional impact on consumers at festivals. Attendees expectations are higher from these brands in a festival setting – they want these brands to elevate above what they see and experience elsewhere from the brand in the day to day. Kopparberg managed to do just that this year with an innovative and engaging POS stand and adjacent assets that invited customers to engage with the brand.
“I was also at the Kopparberg tent with my girlfriend chilling out in the area they provided. This was good to kinda get away from the madness of the festival for a bit.”
Insight 2: The Democratisation of Festival Sponsorship
Interestingly, ‘unexpected’ brands can garner more attention due to novelty and the element of surprise. Their presence at the festival causes attendees to look twice and can have a significant impact on moving the dial on brand perceptions and equity.
“Bank of Ireland did some eye catching doorway designs with their logo on wood boxes. Their tents looked very enticing with the string lights, white picket fences etc. I really didn’t expect to see them there at the festival.”
This highlights the potential that exists for a wide variety of brands to integrate festivals into their marketing activity during the year. Brands that previously didn’t feel that they had a role to play at festivals may now have – as the needs of attendees continue to diversify.
Insight 3: Brands as Pioneers of Discovery
Festivals offer an escape from the ordinary, a chance to break away from routine and the day to day. During this experience, festival-goers are highly receptive to trying new brands and products, seeking novel experiences. If for anything else but to mark the experience as a break away from their usual consumption behaviour.
“DeLonghi stand stole my heart. They were giving out coffee for free, they were really nice and their customer service team was amazing, I enjoy that they had a variety of milks, such as almond, soy and even ice for iced lattes!”
Brands can tap into this consumer curiosity by providing interactive and engaging interactions with attendees. Beyond just selling products, brands should aim to make attendees ‘feel’ their brand through unique and enhanced experiences. This should be a central goal for any brands festival strategy. Festivals are the perfect opportunity for brands to take risks and to encourage customers to trial something new and unexpected.
Insight 4: Building Emotional Connections – A Festival Essential
At festivals, emotional bonds amongst friend circles takes centre stage. It is a key needstate that resonates across different lifestages and types of festivals, making it a valuable area for brands to consider as part of their festival strategy.
“Believe it or not… one of the high points of the festival was huddling into a tent with a group of friends during the thunder and lightning storm, talking about past body and soul experiences. We were laughing through the whole storm together.
Whether it’s new friends embarking on their first festival adventure or groups of friends reuniting, at festivals brands have a golden opportunity to facilitate these special moments. Schweppes nailed that this year, providing attendees with an insta-worthy opportunity that encouraged attendees to share a deeper moment of connection with each other.
“As soon as I walked around the corner there it was in vibrant yellow. I passed by several times during my few hours there and it was always packed with groups of people taking photos. Bit early in the day for gin for me though!
Insight 5: Aligning Brands with the Festival’s Visual Identity and Story
The increasingly competitive festival landscape means that festivals have to work harder than ever before to nurture their unique ‘festival identity’. Essentially, what makes the festival stand out and a different experience to every other festival that is out there.
As festivals work harder to nurture their unique ‘festival identity’, brands need to also consider how they can tie their own visual identity and story to that of the festival. This cohesion between festival and brand is highly important for attendees experience as it provides harmony between what they see and feel.
Yet, there’s more to this story. Attendees, too, yearn to immerse themselves fully within the festival’s visual world through their choice of clothing, and even consumption choices. Through these choices, they want to feel a sense of belonging by admitting themselves into the tribe of festival goers, if even only for a few days – herein lies a golden opportunity for brands.
“I did some research before I got there. It left me even more excited to immerse myself in the festivities, armed with a sense of what to wear
By aligning your brand to the festivals visual identity and story you are also giving attendees the opportunity to connect emotionally further with your brand at festivals. Convergence between festival-brand-individual, does not appear to be something that is currently being fully leveraged and it has the potential to create a deeper sense of belonging, aligning festival-goers with your brand on a deeper level. Think festival specific merchandise, POS and experiences that captures the essence of what the particular festival is all about. This requires brands to take a bespoke and creative approach to each festival, doing all they can to create alignment between festival-brand-individual.
Insight 6: Leaning into Anticipation – The Thrill Before the Festival
The festival experience doesn’t start at the entrance; it begins way before that. For some, the excitement of preparing for a festival is as enjoyable as the festival itself! The lead-up, from picking the right outfits to planning activities and discussing logistics, is all part of the experience.
At present, the large majority of the discussions between attendees pre festival surrounds music line ups.
“I followed the build up videos on Instagram and awaited line ups to be released. Some great videos of DJ’s playing other festivals and countries work well”
However, attendees are also highly receptive to hearing more about the role that brands plan to play at festivals. As such, there is an untapped opportunity for brands to capitalise on attendees anticipation, by building intrigue and excitement for the experience that they are planning to offer at the festival. Arming attendees with this in the lead up to the festival allows them to plan interactions with your brand into the light itinerary for their time at the festival. Doing this from a brands perspective makes total sense as playing a more active role in the lead up to festivals will maximise the exposure that brands get from their festival investment.
Insight 7: Sustainability – Balancing Reward and Responsibility
Let’s be honest. When at a festival, attendees are in a reward mindset. It is a ringfenced break away from the responsibilities of the everyday in which attendees are focused on immersion, excess and being care free. This mindset shift means that other priorities can often fall down the hierarchy of needs – one of which is sustainability.
In order to encourage sustainability led behaviour at festivals, there needs to be a concerted effort from festivals and brands to integrate sustainability into their offer. Efforts that are made are noticed and applauded – even if it imposes some inconvenience on the part of festival-goers. Electric Picnic banning the use of disposable vapes is a good example of this. Promoting good sustainability practice is a signal of a well run and responsible event.
Making a concerted effort on sustainability is important as poor sustainability behaviour at a festival can become infectious and lead to what we call in behavioural science ‘herd behaviour’. In other words, if sustainability is not advocated for by brands and festivals, attendees can take the position of “they don’t care.. so why should I?”.
In order to get attendees to engage with sustainability when at a festival it is imperative that it is made as easy as possible. It is something that they need to be continually reminded of to ‘jolt’ them out of the release state mindset they naturally enter into during a festival.
The busy festival landscape of Summer 2023 has illuminated important insights for brands seeking to make an impact. This creative approach by B&A to research has highlighted that brands play an integral role in the formation of memorable experiences at festivals for attendees and that more is needed to stand out from the crowd and cut through. As the festival scene continues to evolve, these insights provide a compass for brands to navigate with creativity and purpose.
Niall Brennan is Account Director with B&A