Are festival goers ready for personalised brand activations?

We’ve not even reached Christmas, but already brands are looking ahead to planning their presence in next year’s festival season. Festivals such as Glastonbury or Bestival have become home to increasingly engaging and immersive branded playgrounds where consumers place value on entertainment and memorable experiences, without concerning themselves over promotional messaging. Now that digitally savvy festival-goers such as Millennials or Gen Z have an experience expectation, perhaps it’s time for brands to tap into the personalisation trend and turn captive audiences at festivals into a data-fuelled experience economy?

While the ‘death’ of physical retail might be an ongoing discussion topic, a more pressing issue for brands is embracing the idea of physical meets digital (phygital) retail strategies which are well-suited to the festival environment or updating formats to be digital-first – through pop-ups to brand experiences.

Festival pop-ups are the first cousin to traditional high-street retail, where increasingly immersive brand experiences are the retail industry’s latest tactic for attracting fickle digital natives to spend time in-store. Experience is king for this cohort, who are more likely to make a purchase in a physical store if they can share a selfie or check-in at an Instagram-worthy flagship location. Festivals are prime opportunities for this and using place-making phygital strategy, with audiences that are open to experiences, captive and digitally native.

Destination Branding

Beauty brand Benefit is a perfect example of targeted pop-ups that combine an engaging party atmosphere with immersive brand experience. Last year’s Brow Bar drive-through at Glastonbury was a great example of how to bring to life a dedicated product campaign in a well-placed environment. It was located in the queue to get in, a big tick for a captive audience, and worked well as a destination retail activation for the brand’s discerning, digitally savvy customer base.

Then there’s the trend for branded mini-festivals that take the idea of event marketing up a notch. The House of Vans installation at this year’s Bestival was a creative hotbed with lounge space and art installations. Set in a central courtyard, the brand created a workshop space with screen printing, skate film projections and product giveaways. Bestival’s sister label Sunday Best Recordingsorganised the installations’s weekend music programme in collaboration with House of Vans and media partner DIY magazine. This example of a mini-festival within a festival showcased great synergy between brand, media partner and event organiser that all worked from the same experience and cultural brief.

Meanwhile if you were at South by South West (SXSW) in March it was hard to miss the huge HBO Westworld set experience, where festival goers could participate in scenes taken straight out of the Western-themed virtual fantasy playground drama. Recreating a live film set for fans is a genius example of how a 360 degree brand activation experience can amplify consumer engagement and cut through the noise of a traditional media campaign. By centring the value proposition on immersion HBO managed to build a deeper connection with visitors through lived-experience and even more hype around the sci-fi program.

Festivals of Fashion

Brands can also take inspiration from fashion weeks from around the world which themselves have become localised mini-festivals (both industry and consumer facing), where brands are jumping in with temporary retail activations that tap into the transient audience of fashionistas and influencers.

Anya Hindmarch’s Chubby Cloud installation (effectively the world’s largest pillow) at London’s Banqueting House in Westminster was a mindfulness-focused marketing event, held during London Fashion Week where branded cloud-themed merchandise was available within a tiny pop-up space on-site.  After guests had relaxed sitting or lying on the giant room-sized white bean bag while attending talks such as live readings of Radio 4’s shipping forecast or industry ‘in conversation’ talks, they were reminded of the brand that had made the experience possible. A great example of how to turn product into a themed, memorable and tactile event.

Another fashion week favourite is online platform Refinery29’s ‘creative playhouse for the Instagram set’ as the New York Timescalls the Brooklyn-located branded experience, now in its third year, and featuring themed rooms from brands including Aldo, Clarins and Dunkin’ Donuts. With a format that’s easily adapted to the festival environment, ’29Rooms blurs the lines between an art exhibition, a fun house and a ‘choose your own adventure novel’, Albie Hueston, Refinery29’s creative director of experience explains. This kind of multiple-brand experience activation highlights how a new media landscape is emerging where a digital brand nails a physical presence. Here digital reach is more important that selling products and the focus is on creating a playground destination for consumers.

Data-ID experience

The real opportunity for next generation festival pop-ups could be borrowing from the big sea-change happening in retail – targeted customer profiling through data. With 54% of UK 18–34-year-olds willing to trade their data with retailers in return for personalised experiences, according to Yoyo, there is potential to talk to and engage with selected guests, based on pre-determined preferences. Think secret, personalised invites sent to guests devices allowing them access to exclusive experiences or behind the scenes access through the brand.

Look at the latest Nike store concept in Los Angeles: the sportswear giant is optimising a localisation strategy by harvesting data from the community in and around its new Nike Live concept store, so that it can adjust the product mix based on loyalty shopping profiles of NikePlus members living nearby. If Nike were to do this at say, Coachella the two-week music festival in Palm Springs, it could feature relevant products based on the profiles of the festival’s ticketed guests. Technology brands with emerging AI interfaces, such as Samsung, Google Pixel or Amazon Echo might be well placed to offer personalised, data-driven experiences to festival goers in collaboration with organisers. Perhaps soon we will see festivals where ticket-holders can choose from a range of branded experiences that offer deals or exclusive products?

Whilst this might feel like the ‘futuristic’ retail scene in the 2004 film, Minority Report, the ability to recognise customers on a person-to-person basis from today’s most advanced retailers means brands too can super-charge the potential to enhance engagement in any dedicated space – from highly personalised service to pre-emptive convenience. In this way future brand presence at festivals can be used to further extend the shopping opportunities that follow transient consumers around wherever their digital footprint takes them.

< Back to news