Music to the ears of the money men

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The Independent Online
The seemingly endless stream of music festivals of this summer continues next weekend with V97, a two-day festival held in Chelmsford and Leeds simultaneously. By the end of the season 20 such events will have attracted a total of almost 3 million people in a year of unprecedented commercial success for festival organisers.

While music festivals give an eager market of 15- to 30-year-olds a chance to get their rocks off, they also attract an equally keen presence of corporate sponsorship and marketing. A vast spectrum of brand names are leaping at the opportunity to target the elusive younger generation on their home ground. Sponsorship for this year's Glastonbury festival was estimated at pounds 200, 000.

However, the vast market that festivals open up are far from easy pickings for advertisers. Mike Matherson of FFI, marketing agency for the Phoenix, Tribal Gathering, Reading and The Essential Weekender festivals, is well aware of the "increasing media-literacy and notorious cynicism of a generation which has an innate capacity to tune out of constant bombardment from corporate brands". Festival sponsorship is a high-risk strategy that can either make or break a brand name's credibility.

According to recent research by ROAR, a subsidiary of the Taylor Nelson AGB research group, 48 per cent of the market believe sponsors attach themselves to inappropriate events. For instance, brands which just "add their name to something" will have a negligible, if not adverse effect, on a company's image. Carlsberg's involvement with Phoenix as the "official beer" of the festival did nothing for the target audience's perception of the product.

The most viable sponsors already have a close relationship with festival- goers. Dr Marten's, maker of the eponymous boot, who spend a significant proportion of their marketing budget on music events, sponsored a "DM stage" at the Phoenix festival and were the first sponsors to be accepted by the Lollapalooza music festival in the US. Rizla was an obvious candidate for sponsoring the Phoenix festival, and the presence of Pot Noodle trucks was popular.

Tribal Gathering attracted "integrated sponsorship" in which brands add suitable attractions. According to Iain Ferguson, chief executive of below-the-line marketing consultants KLP, "it's a question of mutual communication, a bit like sex. It's about brands bringing something fun along." The importance of the festival for attracting the vital 18-30 audience has led to various brands putting on their own events. Paul Morrison, director of music and sponsorship at KLP, pioneered this "bands and brands" phenomenon under a brief from Tennent's lager to woo the younger end of their market. T in the Park is now a marketing success story: Tennents created a good music festival to become a credible name.

The influence of marketers and brand names has grown to the extent that bands as big as Oasis, M People, Blur and The Prodigy have found themselves approaching the marketers. Iain Ferguson claims "bands are leaping at the chance to piggy-back on marketing enterprise". The festival circuit is as vital for bands' publicity as it is for brands, and its expansion represents an explosion in both music and marketing.

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