How Marketers at Music Fests Are Engaging Fans on Site and Online

Using new tech, new tricks

Headshot of T.L. Stanley

Those tickets to Lollapalooza weren't cheap, and they didn't even come with red carpet-style perks that could help turn the upcoming Chicago show with Metallica and Paul McCartney into a cushy, content-rich VIP experience.

Bud Light empathizes, festival fans.

Unpacking its "most immersive digital toolkit" ever, its executives say, the sponsor will provide fast passes, backstage tours, exclusive downloads, photos with artists, free swag and other royal treatment to concertgoers who opt into its geofencing and proximity marketing.

7Up's EDC fan photos on Tumblr

The Anheuser-Busch brand is one of many marketers using this season's crop of high-traffic music festivals like Stagecoach, Bonnaroo, HARD Summer and Rock in Rio to engage with coveted millennials. But for this discerning, constantly connected crowd, a soda sample and a few tchotchkes won't do.

"There aren't many places to reach 100,000 people in a day in a captive environment," said Andrew Klein, AEG Live's svp, global partnerships. "We tell brands to come big or don't come at all."

Sponsors have rolled out programs as varied as Sephora's massive beauty patio at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts fest to Malibu Rum's freestanding beach house, complete with palm trees, at New York's recent rain-soaked FarmBorough.

Uber has sent not just a driver but a rising country star to ride with fans to Chicago's Windy City Lake Shake, while 7Up and H&M have created limited-time licensed merchandise based on their Electric Daisy Carnival and Coachella festival partnerships. Snapchat, Instagram and other social media links have given the programs long legs.

Tapping into festivals' mobile apps and beacon technology, brands like Bud Light have amped their on-the-ground amenities.

"Fans are asking, 'What did you do for me?' There's a higher expectation of what a brand will bring to a festival," said Mike Raspatello, manager, digital innovation and strategy, Anheuser-Busch. "You want them to be glad you're there."

Face time remains key, sponsors say, but their partnerships have to expand beyond the connections made with on-site fans. Brands are increasingly creating original content starting as soon as the artist lineup for a festival is announced and continuing long after the last stragglers leave the venue. (Drones are in play.) "It's not just about those three days, it's about the six or eight months surrounding the festival," said Maureen Ford, president, national and festival sales for Live Nation. "Everyone's being challenged in a good way to tell their story over a longer period with unique content."

EDC livestream on Yahoo

7Up, a longtime supporter of electronic dance music, sponsored the livestream on Yahoo of the record-breaking EDC Las Vegas (130,000 fans nightly) and created cans for retail and giveaways with designs from DJs Tiësto and Martin Garrix. Those tactics make for an on-trend twofer. Licensing and livestreaming are fast-growing areas in festival-brand deals. "Being on the ground and launching special product demonstrates to fans that we're part of the culture," said Eric Blackwood, 7Up's director of marketing. "And the livestream allows us to take it to a much larger scale—millions rather than a few hundred thousand."

The teen-favorite Vans Warped Tour continues to draw heavily on nonprofit sponsors like, but founder Kevin Lyman said he's shopping the event to a broader market now that this summer's attendance has turned out to be a whopping 70 percent female. Ford, meanwhile, has sponsored several dates, hoping to reach the thousands of parents attending with their kids.

"Some brands got away from experiential marketing for a while, but they've come back to it because of the emotional connection," Lyman said. "When they create a hybrid activation, with social media to amplify it, that's a winner."

This story first appeared in the July 20 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@TLStanleyLA T.L. Stanley is a senior editor at Adweek, where she specializes in consumer trends, cannabis marketing, meat alternatives, pop culture, challenger brands and creativity.