This spring, Coachella snagged its fair share of marketing attention. Call it “the world’s coolest music festival” or just another massive cultural tentpole event; either way, the two-weekend-long California music festival offers abundant opportunities for making brand-consumer connections. Of course, this grand desert party isn’t the only chance for brands to steal the show.
Consider Bonnaroo, the Tennessee music and arts festival, which takes place in June. Or Governors Ball, New York City’s big-tent music festival, which wrapped up a couple weeks earlier on Randall’s Island. These and other national headliner events offer marketers the chance to grab some buzz beforehand, in real time and after the fact.
And then there’s Lollapalooza, Chicago’s biggest jam fest, slated for the first four days of August. During an average festival weekend, about 400,000 fans pack Grant Park and more than 150 acts fill the festival schedule. Marketers planning for up-close-and-personal customer engagement at Lolla and beyond will do well to take a few lessons from Coachella’s brand marketing gurus.
Making a mark with tentpole marketing
Over its 20-year lifespan, Coachella has grown into far more than a desert venue with five stages. It’s a land of its own, inhabited by iconic stars, social media influencers, fashion fanatics and novelty seekers. Long before festivalgoers hit the scene, brands ask themselves the burning question: “How can we leverage Coachella to win hearts and boost sales?”
The answer lies in examining the psychological makeup of Coachella’s celeb, sort-of celeb and people-like-you-and-me patrons. Every person heads to these types of mega occasions to feel part of a larger whole. At the same time, guests desire customized interactions that befit their respective status. From Lady Gaga to the average Jane, Coachella attendees want to be seen, heard, valued and wooed. Brands that understand and deliver this basic human craving for acknowledgment tend to stand out.
Of course, companies must remain true to their core mission. Millennials and Gen Zers can sniff out inauthenticity a mile way. A stunt with no purpose is patronizing, whereas a relevant marketing tactic can bring about incredible loyalty and revenue-propelling momentum.
If your business has just begun exploring the idea of marketing at cultural tentpoles, adopt the philosophies of Coachella’s marketing standouts to knock your experiences out of the park.
1. Choose events that offer snug brand fit.
The first rule of owning the tentpole marketing world? Picking the cultural tentpole that fits your brand’s presence. Otherwise, you could make an expensive, forgettable noise. According to Brett Hyman, president of NVE Experience Agency, vetting each event includes studying more than just the venue. “Without a deep understanding of the cultural conversations and undertones around the tentpole, you run the risk of coming across as insincere or passé,” he warns.
Don’t feel bad if Coachella isn’t your bag. In recent years, H&M, Sephora and Urban Decay also decided to skip the California glam gala. Your job is to pick a setting that makes sense for your messaging. Consider the long-term conversation you want to start so you don’t invest too much in a one-week sponsorship that doesn’t resonate year-round. Bud Light, for instance, used Governors Ball to launch its rainbow bottles just as New York City Pride began. In collaborating with LGBTQ acceptance nonprofit GLAAD, Bud Light used the New York festival as a springboard for its ongoing inclusivity messaging.
2. Treat VIPs to exclusive benefits.
American Express set up its bunny-themed Platinum House as a Coachella tie-in not far from the main event. Not surprisingly, only those with Platinum cards and invites could activate entry. Those who weren’t Amex Platinum members were left in FOMO limbo. Perhaps this will lead them to consider upgrading so they can move up the pecking order next year for whatever excitement the financial company has in store.
Scarcity marketing of this kind might not work in every situation, but it’s perfectly suited to cultural tentpole events. It’s natural for people to want what they think they can’t have. Notes Jacob Baadsgaard, founder and CEO of Disruptive Advertising, “We care a lot more about things that are hard to get or replace, and that makes those things more valuable to us.” Consequently, think about playing a little hard to get.
3. Sponsor off-site experiences.
Can’t get any presence inside a Coachella or Bonnaroo? Take your show on the road. Lucky Brand sponsors an annual off-grounds mini festival called Desert Jam in conjunction with Coachella dates. Not only do satellite events like this add to the amplitude of the festival, but they also give guests a reason to explore and discover.
Instagram, meanwhile, only just this year decided it should have its own branded presence at — or rather, 26 miles away from — one of the most Instagrammable events there is. Instagram’s color-infused Desert Chill pop-up house merged celebrity VIPs with influencers brilliantly, giving everyone a place to enjoy everything that makes the social media site a force. The off-site experience wasn’t designed to make direct sales; rather, it was intended to celebrate what the platform does best: bring like-minded folks together in a hip place with a unique vibe.
4. Become the tentpole’s oasis.
Every event has downsides, especially when you factor in weather elements. For example, at Coachella, the heat can be as extreme as the costumes. Peet’s Cold Brew offered a solution to this crisis with an air-conditioned #BetterEnergy bus, complete with beverages and plenty of shade (the good kind).
Become eventgoers’ savior by figuring out what they need and filling the gaps. Get clever to encourage participation, as Bose did by offering AR functional sunglasses for purchase ahead of or at Coachella. The sunglasses helped wearers navigate the enormous grounds while scoring Bose big tech points. At Governors Ball this year, Asics offered shoe-shining services for mud-caked gear — an idea that hit close to home, considering that severe thunderstorms stopped the show early.
Forget about starting your experiential cultural tentpole marketing from scratch. Scour through other brands’ innovations to jump-start a brainstorm. Then, get out there and activate — engagement is just a festival away.