Linking brands with music through advertisements or sponsorship of artists is hardly new. With Experiential Branding, however, a brand is supposed to become both a player and a participant in a social event, not an agent for a sale. This branding, which has been around for two decades, is now widely practiced in live music shows and other large public performance events, including sports. The concept has been associated in the past with merchandise giveaways and paid sponsorships and today it ties into social media.
Of course, targeting well-attended public events can cements a brand’s name into a particular lifestyle. In particular, summer music festivals offer an opportunity. This is because consumers are otherwise harder to reach since they tend to be less exposed to city or web advertising.
Branding and Music Consumption
It should be realized that, by and large, consumers remain loyal to a brand if its image is consistent and understood. This applies to festival audiences too. In fact, the product being sold is not crucial as long as attendees can connect with it at a social level. A car commercial, for example, can play music with a compelling storyline that uses words like “dream”, “happiness, and “fly”. Emotional freedom does not come from owning a car, but a consumer relates to being free by buying that car—here is where the brand adds extra value to the experience of using the vehicle.
That is why it is convenient for a brand to associate itself with an image prop like music and, especially, why festivals are so interesting to brands. For instance, being outdoors, wearing summer clothes, seeing bands on stage, and dancing and meeting people is what many would consider “cool” (in part, this is also because festivals offer the perfect opportunity for music fans to enjoy live shows outdoor, escape from the city, and enjoy a carefree environment).
Moreover, the bigger festivals, like Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Coke Live, CMJ, Virgin’s V Music festival, Coachella, and SXSW, mix established acts with upcoming bands. Putting different groups together helps increase other bands’ fan bases because one ticket allows the buyer to watch an act that typically plays to large audiences with other opening acts and bands that do not. These smaller audiences can become the new adopters of the brand. As the population of some of these festivals can reach into the tens of thousands, the odds are good of finding potential customers.
Branding, Artists, and Society
If festivals are supposed to be about the music, and brands are joining the party for reasons other than music, it is curious that we do not perceive the brands as outsiders. After all, much of Rock-‘N-Roll, to take an example, is about rebelling against society. So it is disconcerting that fans generally transition gladly into the brand’s world and its alternative modus operandi, ethics, and, perhaps, politics.
Artists, of course, are the mediators between music fans and the brands.
The exposure from the festival is often a sufficient reason for performing there because recorded music sales are becoming less valuable in musicians’ revenues. In this case, a reluctance to be associated with a particular sponsorship may not prevent a band’s performance. Besides, there is always the proverbial retort, coming either from the band’s manager or the band’s entourage, “if you don’t do it, someone else will”.
In the end, it is the diminishing role of the record labels in the fortunes of recorded music, and the shift to a single song economy, that is to blame for an increased dependence of bands on alternative patrons, such as the top consumer brands. They do not really function to promote music, something which the early Rock-‘N-Roll stars seemed to know intuitively. Moreover, times have changed much since 1950-2000, when recorded music was the cash cow of the business: Artists reflect culture too, and society seems to feel more comfortable identifying a lifestyle with a consumption pattern.
As long as music is perceived as an intrinsically attractive value and a force of positive self-expression, the marriage between artists, fans, and their brands might be long-lived. However, the problem is that consumer branding is not as well suited to support reflective and iconoclastic music. It risks diluting the contributions of a significant part of the music making population whose creativity we have deemed invaluable precisely because they were outside the commercial mainstream.
In the meantime, music fans, as always, drive the business and seem unmoved, suggesting that artists are not out of touch with them. The brands may not be getting in the way, but they would do well to not get too ahead of the music with their marketing campaigns.
By Mariana Migliore