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Last Updated: Monday, 23 May 2005, 04:00 GMT 05:00 UK
Firms target music festival goers
By Clare Matheson
BBC News business reporter

V Festival main stage
Never mind the music, here's the logos
As thousands of festival goers peg out their tents this summer, it is a far cry from the "hippy" festivals of yesteryear.

At festivals these days, brand logos loom large over the stages, traders flog inflatable gadgets plastered in advertising. Even the beer glasses have industry names stamped across them.

Recently, Glastonbury, long known as the leading non-corporate festival and as a green, charity-embracing event, caved in to the pressure of the festival business, its no-logo ethos having been shattered by the presence of its sponsors; the Guardian, Emap, Budweiser and Orange phones.

Advertising blitz

Escaping the adverts is made even harder by corporate sponsors insisting on having festivals named after them.

At the forefront of this trend is the V, backed by Virgin Mobile whose logo is plastered across big screens, urging 130,000 festival goers to "text the fest", eating into their pockets in the process.

V festival goers sat on V logo inflatable
Look closely - even the seating can't escape the adverts

Reading and Leeds festivals have been re-dubbed the Carling Weekend festival.

On the south coast, there is the Nokia Isle of Wight Festival.

And if you thought Scotland's T in the park referred to a hot cuppa, think again: the T stands for an entirely different brew; Tennants.

'Get them early'

For advertisers, it has become vital to make their presence felt at festivals.

Their careful targeting of festival goers, a difficult to reach sector of the population, is part of a strategy to 'catch'em young'.

There's no doubt that the links (to the V festival) and associated PR means we get a spike in awareness that's the equivalent of a TV campaign
James Kidd, Virgin Mobile brand director

"Young people are notoriously hard to get hold of," says Graham Hales executive director of consultants Interbrand.

"So if you sponsor an event with a huge population they're going to be subsumed within the proximity of that event."

Virgin itself admits to launching its now annual festivals "very much as an opportunistic thing" to promote Virgin Cola.

"If you start from scratch, its worth a lot more than putting a brand onto it at a later date," says Virgin Mobile's brand director, James Kidd.

Virgin Mobile is selling a lifestyle and an image.

"Its very much experiential marketing," says Mr Kidd.

"It's more of a benefit if young people go along and enjoy the event than they come away knowing we're selling phones at 14.99.

"It's about brand image, this is the sort of thing we want our values associated with."

For Carling, the Reading and Leeds Weekend festivals are "very, very simply a brand strategy to recruit young males".

Chelsea - Carling Cup winners 2005
Carling already has its name on big sporting events

The company wants to attract 25 to 34-year-old men whose main interests are football, music, beer and women.

"There's evidence from the market place that if you recruit people to brands at an early age they'll grow with you, so we're single-mindedly recruiting people to the brand," says Carling brand director at Coors, Des Johnson.

Balancing act

But there's a fine line between sponsorship and keeping the festival audience happy.

Times have changed since the "tune in, turn on and drop out" heyday of festivals in the 60s and 70s.

Woodstock - one of the original "free" fests in 1969 - was marred by riots when it returned 30 years later as security broke down.

Some blamed the music for inciting violence while many other said corporate greed had pushed people over the edge.

But festivals can be a way to avoid the "commercial parasite" tag, Interbrand's Mr Hales says.

"You get a close association with people over two to three day experience having a very good time and saying so - it's not seen as an overly corporate thing as its not grown up and it's a good, easy time.

"The audience had a good time when they're there and they'll have that brand in mind from the experience," he says.

Woodstock 1999 - aftermath of riots
Were the Woodstock rioters raging against corporations?
"We make sure what we do is not pure branding, instead we're adding value to the experience and don't want people to think we've been forcing our brand down the audiences throat - that's when people get unhappy," Virgin's Mr Kidd says.

Companies also have to be careful not to become just part of the scenery, Interbrand's Mr Hales warns.

"Big brands have to work hard for exposure and not to be lost in the snowstorm."

He cites Nike as a good example of how it can be done well - with its sponsorship of golf star Tiger Woods providing top-end, high cost advertising; while its amateur 10k fun run in the UK retains its credibility as a brand for anyone.

Sponsorship means sales

Carling's Mr Johnson adds that being part of a live festival means the brand is part of a key event in someone's life, which allows you to share your war stories of muddy fields and undiscovered bands afterwards.

We've developed a spontaneous association with live music ... we're now at position number one in terms of awareness
Don Johnson, Carling brand director

"Next time you look and see Carling in a pub its positive association as part of pivotal moments in people's lives," he adds.

That exposure does equate to sales, the experts argue.

"There's no doubt that the links and associated PR means we get a spike in awareness that's the equivalent of a TV campaign," Mr Kidd says.

"People are more predisposed to Virgin Mobile if they've been to the festival - we have 80% recognition from people who've been there."

Carling's Mr Johnson agrees.

While he cannot give specific figures on how much that feeds through to sales, he does say that sales have risen year-on-year with the pace accelerating over the last few years.

"After the Carling Reading and Leeds Weekend, without doubt there's a spike in awareness, and over time we've developed a spontaneous association with live music - people questioned say Carling more than MTV now.


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