All together now – how festivals are helping brands connect

Recent years have seen a rise in the popularity of festivals in the UK. These events have become much more diverse – extending far beyond their usually popular music-based roots to embrace everything from arts/performance to foodie-focused weekends, mindfulness to wellbeing and the love of the wilderness!

This trend seems to be being driven by two of the emotions ABA has explored in its #5Drivers model of consumer behaviour. Firstly, festivals chime with people’s yearning for Freedom – providing an escapist bubble that, when inhabited for a long period, makes your ‘normal world’ seem a long way away. They give us the chance to escape not only our usual surroundings but also ourselves – perhaps by wearing glitter and all-over fringing or by getting face-painted and intoxicated. They make us feel free to experiment in an ‘anything goes’ environment and indulge our desire for discovery (e.g. in seeing new music acts or experimenting with new food). Secondly, festivals seem almost purpose-built to promote a sense of Belonging. No iPhone can compete with the feeling of connectedness that comes from sharing a song with thousands of others, or sitting round a campfire with a bunch of new-made friends.

These events present a prime opportunity for brands to play to these two Drivers and forge bonds with a captive audience. Here are some examples of how this can be achieved...

Getting your brand out there for less

A festival offers restaurants and stores a way of winning attention that is relatively cost-effective versus pop-ups and conventional advertising. Investing in a van for your brand means you could cover all of the top 20 festivals in the UK in only a couple of months and gain access to over a million people. This gives traditional bricks and mortar players, perhaps struggling to grow footfall, a fresh means of reaching an audience – one that might just sneak under the guard of consumers inundated by brand messages sent via traditional media. Waitrose has launched its “Festival Kitchen” at events including Cornbury Festival, Latitude and Camp Bestival. Niche brands have been particularly quick to climb aboard this trend; recognising it as an easy way of building profile beyond their limited physical presence. Patty & Bun tours its premium meat offer around UK festivals, and Michelin-inspired food comes to the masses via Angela Hartnett at Wilderness Festival.

Create spectacular #Belonging – host your own festival!

Again in the vanguard, Waitrose this year hosted its own festival for the first time! Held in Hampshire on their Leckford Estate – also known as “The Waitrose farm” – this featured a wide variety of food, drink and activities to promote its summer range. This not only highlighted the brand’s strong emphasis on quality and authenticity but also conveyed the notion it was “getting down with the kids” – in a way that felt less toe-curling than other more blatant attempts to look cool. In doing this, Waitrose reached a younger-than-normal audience and sowed the seeds for the next generation of fans.

Meanwhile, sports brands have looked to dial up #Belonging through bringing together like-minded fans. Lululemon hosted SWEATLIFE, which focussed on improving wellbeing and personal development. Virgin Sport launched its first Festival of Fitness.

Connecting through experiences that truly play to #Freedom

Other brands have used the festival context to tap into our desire for escapism; promising something that will transform how we feel. Corona offered visitors to the Boardmasters Festival the chance to grab a hammock and enjoy the sunset. Benefit built a drive-through brow bar at Glastonbury – relieving the boredom of queuing for the event by offering treatments and products that would leave you truly ‘festival-ready’! At the Wilderness Festival, Lavazza hosted workshops on coffee tasting – pushing people’s barriers by offering exotic flavours such as caviar!

Festivals are often intense experiences that heighten emotions and make participants keen to both lose themselves in the crowd and re-find themselves as free individuals. Whilst some might argue that commerce is at odds with this ethos, it seems many festival goers feel they can actually amplify and extend their experience by buying products in sync with the event. Brands that are late to the party are likely to miss out.