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Festivals. To brand or not to brand?

Posted 21 Jun 2011 by Young Lee

As the skies open dutifully and the festival season gets into full swing, we are wondering which brands will be the most progressive and insightful with their music partnership this year. Our good friend YoungLee reminisces about last year's offerings and the overall effect branding has had on the ever-expanding world of music festivals...

Live music is now the fastest growing consumer sector and biggest employer in the music industry. A large contributor to this is the music festival, now an established part of British summertime.

One of the biggest changes for festivals is the involvement of corporate branding. Can and does it have a positive impact? When corporations try to buy into cultural events opinion will always be divided.

What festival you attend says something about the type of person you are. Some festivals are seen as 'cool', others aren't. For some festival goers music's not the main attraction, the mass experience is. Temporary summer tribalism. The more clued up brands know that creating a common experience is key. Many people don't view branding as positive but a necessary evil which enables bigger line ups and a more comfortable festival experience. How else would promoters be able to pull in superstar 'million pound fee' bands? If a brand is willing to throw their money about whilst understanding the ethos of a specific festival then branding can work.

But brand conflict can and does arise. Take last years Lovebox for example. Reports on the music front were on the whole glowing. The edgy, underground sounds of artists such as Joy Orbison and Toddla T complimented the brilliant pop sensibility of Dizzey Rascal and legends Grace Jones and Roxy Music. Lovebox was sponsored by Rizla rolling paper which didn't stop police sniffer dogs patrolling entrances and busting people for a little bit of puff.

Usually up there with the best of them, last years Bestival reports were a mixed bag. From quirky South London pub party into one of the UK's best loved festivals, Bestival has carved out a great reputation for its strong music / entertainment and fun loving, slightly hippy, non-pretentious crowd. Last years line up included Hot Chip, Mumford and Sons, Gil Scott Heron and Tinie Tempah. Some top performances where reported and on the whole it was a big thumbs up but some complained that too many tickets were sold, as well as a marked change in the crowd.

A Bestival regular said "This year it was full of 'Skins' type teenagers who wanted to be able to say "I went to Bestival", and then tag themselves in 100's of photos on Facebook."

Is this a fair point or festival snobbery? It's hardly Bestival's fault who buys tickets, but has branding changed the demographic for the worst? He said although everyone had a good time, they wouldn't be going back unless they put a 25 age limit on the festival "to get rid of all the idiots pretending to be festival hippies based on what they see on Hollyoaks".

Is the brands money (spent on bigger name acts) making festival crowds harder to please?

During the Gorrilaz set on the main stage at last years Glastonbury droves of people started leaving as early as 5 minutes into their set. Perhaps it wasn't the greatest programming, but it seems many new festival goers aren't interested in anything not heard on terrestrial and digital media. Do the internet generation have a shorter attention span, demanding instant gratification rather than being taken on a musical journey?

In the heady 90's before the media and brands stepped in, crowds would go mental for anything and everything. Thrilled to be there, sharing a common experience with likeminded people. Do today's homogenous crowd only want the familiar? Or is there too much on offer? Many promoters are increasingly aiming to cater for this new crowd by bringing in more pop / novelty acts to satisfy those who want the familiar.

The beauty of Glastonbury is that it's big enough to offer an array of different experiences branded or not. From Gorrilaz on the main stage to the smaller non branded Block 9, Acadia and Shangri-La areas where you can score acid off fire juggling travellers.

Yes, festivals are more mainstream and crowds forever changing but your choices are far from limited. If you're a festival purist who doesn't want anything commercially branded you can easily find something to suit. The rise of the smaller 'boutique festival' and special interest events gives the more discerning festival goer a myriad of options to choose from. This year's festival program looks busier than ever. It's going to be another huge summer of outdoor music action.

Ultimately festivals are still amazing places where you can escape from the mundane routine of everyday life whilst discovering fantastic new music or reacquaint yourself with the old. A few days in the countryside spent dancing your arse off, losing yourself in 'the vibe' and having fun with your mates. Not many things can beat that.

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