The Rock in Rio Festival

Nearly two months ago, and after a ten-year hiatus,  Brazil witnessed the return of the Rock In Rio Festival. The event, considered the biggest of its kind in the world, has developed its own international profile, with Madrid and Lisbon editions in Europe. Roberto Medina, one of the most successful advertising entrepreneurs in Brazil, has built an empire around it.

The first edition of the festival, a landmark event in Brazil, was held in January 1985. The country was recovering from military dictatorship and the new democracy welcomed international acts at last. 1.4 million people went to a specially-built location called  “Rock City” (Cidade do Rock) to see Queen, Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, and AC/DC. The festival also featured Al Jarreau, James Taylor, and George Benson. Large audiences drove Rock in Rio to success. Queen’s performance was anthological, with Freddie Mercury conducting a choir of more than 325,000 voices singing Love of My Life. The performance was recorded and broadcasted in over sixty countries and reached two hundred million people, giving sponsors an unprecedented amount of visibility.  Rock in Rio became a reliable brand, which then cemented  the reputation of young local groups such as Paralamas do Sucesso, Titãs, and Barão Vermelho. These bands are now recognized as  pioneers of a new musical landscape in Brazil.

The second edition of the festival, in 1991, took place at the famous Maracana Stadium. The economy was not doing well, the event could not be run from the desired Rock City venue, and, for budgetary reasons, there were many more national artists performing. Part of the reason for that was that the organizers themselves wished to diversify into genres other than rock in order to attract newer audiences. Artists from more traditional Brazilian styles like Gilberto Gil and Elba Ramalho shared the same stage as Sepultura, George Michael, A-Ha, and Judas Priest. The highlight of the festival, however, was Guns and Roses, who played two memorable concerts.

Rock in Rio III took place in 2001, and welcomed 1.2 million people in a rebuilt City of Rock. Good causes dominated the event, which pushed the motto and project  “For a Better World”, education for the young, and untold UNESCO initiatives. Celebrities attended in droves, and convinced 3,2000 radio stations and 400 TV broadcasters to air three minutes of silence for reflection.

This social mantle was instrumental in establishing Rock in Rio as an international brand, promoting festivals in Europe, with Rock In Rio Lisbon in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010, and also in Madrid in 2008 and 2010. The European versions were not as well attended as in Brazil but, on average, audiences hovered around a respectable 350,000.

More regularity helped too. After six European editions, the way was paved for a stellar return to Brazil. A partnership with the Rio de Janeiro City Hall allowed the construction of an entirely new City of Rock on the site of the future Olympic Village in 2016 . Rock in Rio 2011 has had an enormous impact on the city’s economy because it generated about  half a billion dollars in revenue and indirectly created 10,000 new jobs. It was not the largest festival of the series, but attendees numbered 700,000 throughout the week. More than 160 musical acts were featured across three different stages. The price of admission was around $110 and tickets sold out in less than four days.

This year, one of the criticisms levied at the festival is that not enough space was set aside to feature Rock music—the genre from whence the event was born. Roberto Medina explained that the festival is an open space where different people can come together and share experiences. In fact, the majority of the 600-plus acts featured in every edition of Rock in Rio have been rock acts like AC/DC, Metallica, and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. However, the strategy always was to diversify in order to attract a wide array of customers. Roberto Medina emphasizes that the choice of artists who perform at the festival is the result of  dense marketing research and a thorough analysis of trends in social media. Katy Perry and Rihanna were both at Rio this year, and their success seems to confirm Medina’s approach.

This year, for instance, the organization decided to invest heavily in communication through non-traditional outlets. They estimated that 180 million people from more than 200 countries followed the festival via the Internet and social media. Rock in Rio had an exclusive channel on Youtube that streamed all the concerts live worldwide. During the weeks of the festival, Rock in Rio was the top “trending topic” on twitter in more than ten countries, and its exclusive iPhone app was the most downloaded in Brazil.

Taking advantage of the success of this latest edition, the organizers announced that the festival will now happen on a regular basis. Even with no bands announced yet for  2013, 15,000 tickets have already been sold during a pre-sale promotion at the festival this year. Before it happens again, Rock in Rio will go back again to Lisbon or Madrid in 2012, and possibly to Latin America in 2013.  Mexico and Colombia are the most likely candidates.

The brand is growing organically. But, Rock in Rio  demonstrates too the growing power of Brazil in the international music market. With a thriving economy plus important events in the upcoming decade–the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016—the country is attracting new business. Indeed, Lollapalooza, America’s best-attended festival, has announced a Brazilian edition next year.


By Luiz Augusto Buff



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