In my eyes, event sponsorship is all about heightening the consumer's experience. I hope for the sake of our industry, that corporate culture has graduated from thinking signage and logo placement equates to consumer retention and interest.
The true play for a brand in the event activation space is to elevate the event goers' experience by ultimately conveying that the brand understands what the consumer is going through. Once a brand understands and connections to the consumer's emotional event experience, they can effectively add real value as a sponsor.
Additionally, event producers don't have the time to offer every amenity, every perk, every nice-to-have since they are focused on the entertainment and general production needs. I'm sure every festival producer says, "That's a great idea; maybe we'll get to it next year." Four years later, it's still a great idea but hasn't been executed. This leaves a huge opportunity for brands to elevate their activations.
A quick snapshot of Bonnaroo to properly set the stage: four days of music and mayhem on a 700-acre farm in the middle of nowhere. There is no escaping the festival grounds. The average teen I spoke with drove 8+ hours and stayed in a basic camp tent with minimal amenities. Most didn't have a basic fan in their tent and it was insanely hot. Bonnaroo isn't an event; it's a cultural movement comprised of loyal adventure seekers, with approximately half of 100,000 attendees being teens and college-aged.
Effective activations aren't always big spectacles: First brand to capture my attention was Skull Candy. An outgoing dude accompanied by a videographer rushed up to a group of brightly outfitted teens and asked one to put on the Skull Candy headphones and test her Bonnaroo music knowledge. If she named the Bonnaroo artists playing in the headphones correctly, they were hers to keep. Simple, low cost, and creates simple and direct alignment with the brand and the event.
Surprise fans with your product: Festival-goers that stumbled to the public showers to wash off their muddied toes were surprised with Garnier Fructis shampoo and conditioner samples. Simple way to get products in hands and be a welcomed surprise at the right moment. The only issue was the showers were pretty gross. Note to brand: have more regular cleaning attendants on site.
Don't be afraid to let your hair down: Corporate tents feel, well, corporate. If you're not using a tent for the purpose of hospitality, challenge the entire notion of a conventional tent and offer something different. Vitaminwater had a stellar setup inside a tented structure: The Silent Disco. Attendees were provided a set of headphones and danced to a DJ spinning in their ears. A photographer shot images and printed them out on-site with quirky sayings affixed to the printouts, i.e., GoGo Water, which were provided in combination with product samples.
Give premiums that contain event-stamina: I was totally shocked that there were no Bonnaroo-branded headbands. A ton of teens rocked their own colorful headbands in the 90-degree heat. Personal hand fans or sweatbands would have been welcomed premiums by the attendees and would have stayed on them for at least 24 hours as they ventured through the event grounds.
Brands must raise the bar, seek to deliver epic, highly memorable, conversation-worthy experiences that stand out and capture the attention of a select few. Once they have captured the attention of this small set, they need to enable mechanisms to spread these experiences, stories and special moments to the masses through social, word-of-mouth, and "you wouldn't believe what just happened"-type text messages to friends.
Final words: Make Activations Epically Memorable. If you can't, stay home.
See you on the festival circuit ...