Guest Blog: How brands can use live activation to stand out in festival season – Natalie Wright, Initials

Glastonbury, Latitude, Reading and Leeds. Festivals have become household names. Nowhere is this truer than in the UK, where for a few blissful days, whether it’s a mud bath or bathed in glorious sunshine, revellers unite to share a unique experience that removes them from their day-to-day lives.

Festival-goers become part of a tribe that shares the values of the festival, taking on a common cultural identity. The feeling of community is unlike most of modern life and keeps them coming back for more. But festivals also involve a captive audience that is open to new experiences. Combine this with the fact that the festival industry is set to grow to £3.5bn by 2020, and it’s clear that this is a ripe opportunity for brands to reach and engage consumers.

What’s more, whether a brand extolls wacky creativity, pure hedonism or complete sustainability, there’s likely to be a place for it. However, if there’s one thing that’s certain, no one likes a corporate party pooper. Whilst it’s imperative that brands pick festivals that fit their ethos, activation must be in keeping with the unique vibe of each.

As the festival landscape booms and evolves, there are a multitude of tried-and-tested brand experiences that showcase how brands can really capture the attention of people at scale. Take Latitude, with its flock of technicolour sheep; activation should be suitably colourful if it is going to have a chance of engaging the 35,000 people that descend on Henham Park, Suffolk, each July. This year, Naked Juice rose to the occasion, welcoming revellers into Colourtopia where the juice brand combined sampling with creativity. Starting as a stark white wilderness full of interesting sculptures, festival-goers were encouraged to design a vibrant, dynamic environment filled with positive, feel-good energy after being armed with Naked Juice smoothies. Meanwhile, in the much more urban setting of British Summer Time (BST) in London’s Hyde Park, Birra Moretti created a multi-sensory experience to transport festival-goers into the romantic ambience of Italy. Both of these are good examples of brand activation that communicates a message in a clear and coherent way, while taking cues from the festival.

It might seem contradictory, but the unexpected is a given at festivals. This anticipation presents a challenge for brands, as there is a pressure to deliver messages and experiences in the most exciting ways possible – which means activations cannot be for the sake of it. The proliferation of social media has led to increased speculation ahead of time, as well as the opportunity to relive it when in the midst of post-festival blues. Festival activations have therefore become increasingly integrated campaigns, using digital and social to support.

Strongbow’s 2017 Epic Entrance campaign is a good example of using multiple disciplines in one project. A dedicated microsite hosted the competition ahead of Isle of Wight (8-11 June), Kendal Calling (27-30 July) and Victorious Festival (25-27 August), where the Epic Entrance events and on-site bar came to life. Designed to transform the chore of queuing into something glittering and memorable for lucky competition winners, Epic Entrance captures the spirit of embodying a new and exciting persona for just a few days, by amplifying the pre-festival excitement and starting people’s adventure with a bang.

The Epic Entrance was just a taster of the fun that was to follow and excited visitors about further potential surprises. The Strongbow party continued with a dedicated bar overseen by a giant Strongbow Archer. Transforming at sundown, illuminated by fireworks, the bar added to the festival buzz and kept the festivities bouncing long into the night.

The transient nature of festivals makes them an appealing, but challenging, platform for any brand’s live activation. In today’s festival landscape, there is something for everyone; but brands must create an integrated strategy that is authentic and in keeping with the festival hosting it. It is no doubt a balancing act – but those that achieve it will play a hero’s role in people’s summer season.

Natalie Wright, Senior Communications Director, Initials

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