The music festival scene is on the verge of achieving its magnum opus, and it goes a little something like this: At the end of Q2, Live Nation reported a 20-percent increase in tickets sold to its shows compared to last year, with 90 percent of its 2023 sponsorships committed. An analysis earlier in the year showed that roughly 70 The post Steal the Show with 27 of the Summer’s Best Festival Activation Ideas appeared first on Event Marketer.
The music festival scene is on the verge of achieving its magnum opus, and it goes a little something like this: At the end of Q2, Live Nation reported a 20-percent increase in tickets sold to its shows compared to last year, with 90 percent of its 2023 sponsorships committed. An analysis earlier in the year showed that roughly 70 percent of festivalgoers believed sponsors could enhance their show experience—and over this summer, brands undeniably proved it.
Across tentpoles like Bonnaroo, Coachella, Lollapalooza and Rolling Loud, top sponsors courted fans with experiences that not only delivered value to attendees, but were unique to their brand. From spirits to CPG to beauty to retail to auto, companies across categories rocked summer festivals with innovative, whimsical touchpoints, so we rounded up 27 of the season’s best activation ideas. Now, grab your notebook and hit “Play.”
More Festival Activation Ideas:
1. ETERNAL LOYALTY (PROGRAMS)
Liquid Death arrived at festivals like EDC and Lollapalooza with the Liquid Death Country Club, beckoning attendees in with an eerie golf club-inspired pop-up featuring an entrance flanked by Grim Reaper statues. The price of entry? Your eternal soul. Getting into the VIP experience entailed signing up for the brand’s Liquid Death Country Club loyalty program. Those who opted in were then treated to airbrush tattoos, a golden skull fountain, performances by a string quartet and horoscope readings.
2. OWNING A BRAND IDIOSYNCRASY
Everyone knows that at some point in your Pringles-eating journey, wedging your hand down into the product’s signature tube will be part of the process. So the brand decided to own that unique idiosyncrasy at multiple summer festivals with a Get Stuck In and Win experience that invited attendees to step up to a wall of empty Pringles cans and reach their hand in to “get stuck” to score branded swag like sunglasses, bandanas, fans, cans of Pringles and a few VIP ticket upgrades. (Agency: G7 Entertainment Marketing)
3. PRODUCT-THEMED MIXTAPES
Liquid I.V. activated at festivals including Bonnaroo, Rolling Loud and Outside Lands with a hydration hub offering wet and dry samples, and a Remix Station that mimicked a real recording studio. In the studio, fans answered questions to determine their personality type and festival-going vibe, and a track inspired by one of the brand’s Hydration Multiplier drink mix flavors was selected to suit their taste. The song was then used as the backdrop for the participant’s own “mixtape”—a 10-second remix video, which, naturally, could be shared on social.
4. A SHOE-DISPENSING VENDING MACHINE
Casual shoe company HEYDUDE kicked it at Stagecoach with a footprint that included a branded vending machine. But it wasn’t just hats and koozies up for grabs—attendees had a shot at scoring a brand-new pair of sneakers from the machine, too. Not your average swag grab. (Partners: Activent, experiential agency; Innovate Vending Solutions, vending machine)
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5. ELEVATED HYDRATION
So much of festival culture, and sponsorship experiences, involves alcohol, but what about recovery? Clinique stepped in at Coachella with its Hydration House to fulfill the need. Among touchpoints was an elevated hydration station in the form of a fruit-infused water bar offering five options, from grapefruit to rose water.
6. SPIRITUAL SAMPLING
Interest in the spiritual act of discovering the color of one’s aura has been steadily gaining steam, and during the ZOEasis event at Coachella, Sephora gave attendees the opportunity to do just that by participating in a perfume activation. Partakers could not only discover the color of their aura, but also tested a variety of scents on display. Once they found their favorite fragrance, they misted it onto a friendship bracelet embroidered with encouraging words and could then take the item to an on-site poet to inspire a custom poem written in real time.
7. A MOBILE PODCAST STUDIO
You might think of a mobile podcast studio as a b-to-b event strategy, but it’s also an effective b-to-c play. At Rolling Loud, sponsor D’ussé Cognac popped up a podcast studio in collaboration with the artists behind the Drink Champs podcast, N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN, for an exclusive live taping at the event. Their star power attracted headlining acts to the episode, who sipped on D’ussé cocktails while on the air, lending the brand plenty of street cred.
8. INSTALLATIONS THAT REFLECT BRAND CULTURE
Brand fan communities often bond over the unique culture the company and its products or services inspire, something Sonic leaned into at Bonnaroo. Within its music-inspired footprint was an art installation featuring a giant pair of lips with a tongue sticking out that made for a popular photo op, especially because the tongue intermittently changed colors—a nod to Sonic’s particular brand culture and community, which embraces the playfulness of a colorful post-Slush tongue. (Agency: Wasserman)
9. TURNING FANS INTO POP STARS WITH AI
Armed with its new generative AI-powered Coke Studio festival experience, Coca-Cola stopped at fests like Lolla and its proprietary Sips & Sounds Summer Festival to turn fans into pop stars with the help of artificial intelligence. As individuals or groups, attendees could answer questions to inspire the AI’s creation of their unique “Real Stars” identity, which included their name, song and album art, as well as music and video elements. When it was time to hit the spotlight, the group was notified on their phones to move into the booth to make their shareable music video. (Agency: Momentum Worldwide)
10. A NOSTALGIC PHOTO LAB
The Y2K experience design trend is going strong, and American Express has been among brands leveraging creative ways to transport attendees back in time. Over the summer that included stopping atfestivals like Coachella and BST Hyde Park in London with a retro photo lab. The “newstalgic” experience invited festivalgoers to rent or buy an eco-friendly, digital point-and-shoot camera from Paper Shoot, and snap and share vintage-style photos. As a bonus, Amex cardmembers had the option to print their photos onto a limited-edition tote bag to take home as a custom souvenir. (Agency: Momentum Worldwide)
11. A STRATEGY THAT FOLLOWS THE SUNSET
Corona launched a proprietary Sunsets Festival World Tour this summer that was strategically located at iconic outdoor locations that offer views of some of the world’s most stunning sunsets. The festival touched down in places like South Africa, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Japan, Italy, China and others with robust lineups of international artists who performed at the golden hour as the sunset took center stage.(Partner: Fly South Music Group)
12. SHOE CHARMS
Hands-on crafts are often popular with festivalgoers and typically involve friendship bracelets. But with its Music Den by Toyota platform (a music festival activation staple), the automaker offered a little something different at events like Outside Lands: Fans could head over to a Prius vehicle display to customize their own shoe charms. (Agency: Anthemic Agency)
13. A LUXURY BATHROOM EXPERIENCE
Festival restrooms are notoriously unpleasant, a fact not lost on period-apparel brand Modibodi. At Australian music festival Splendour in the Grass, the company popped up a private luxury bathroom (dubbed a “life-changing loo”) that could be accessed by signing up for its mailing list or purchasing a product from the on-site Modibodi pop-up store. (Agencies: Publicis Sport & Entertainment; Zenith)
14. A RECIPE JUKEBOX
Many festival activations are music-themed, and rightly so. Fritos turned the concept on its head with its Legacy Diner pop-up at Milwaukee’s Summerfest. Among whimsical activation touchpoints was a traditional-looking jukebox, but it came with a twist. Instead of flipping through songs, fans flipped through hundreds of recipe cards that featured Fritos as an ingredient. The idea? Position the corn chips as something to incorporate into everyday cooking, rather than just snacks.
(Love Beauty and Planet)
15. MAKEOVERS THAT KILL TIME
Glam stations are a way of life at music festivals, and Love Beauty and Planet took the concept to new heights during Coachella. Throughout the weekend, the brand provided shuttle service between hotels and the festival grounds via branded party buses. To offer fans a fun way to kill time while awaiting their transportation, LBP erected touch-up stations for quick makeovers. To boot, each tent pumped out a scent derived from the natural ingredients in the brand’s signature fragrance collections and featured a design aesthetic to match. (Agencies: MKG; Edelman)
16. GRASS LANDS FOR CANNABIS FANS
With states steadily legalizing recreational cannabis, it’s well worth looking at how Outside Lands and its brand partners cater to the community. The property’s Grass Lands experience, this year presented by Weedmaps, was a curated activation that highlighted innovations and culture in the cannabis industry, with the opportunity to buy cannabis products from vendors on-site and enjoy those purchases in a dedicated area. The experience additionally included comfort food for the munchies and live dj sets.
17. A MINI-MART
Music festivals tend to feature dedicated supply stores offering items like sunscreen for purchase, and Häagen-Dazs activated a playful spin on the concept with its pop-up Mini-Marts, which made their way to a number of festivals over the summer. With the look and feel of a traditional corner store, the highlight of each Mini-Mart was the offer of a free ice cream cone in the brand’s Butter Cookie Cone flavor. But Häagen-Dazs went the full mile to complete the aesthetic, setting up newspaper stands, gumball machines and other odds and ends.
Häagen-Dazs is at @govballnyc! We sold out of free ice cream by 6PM, but the Mini Mart is restocked and ready for Saturday and Sunday. Come see us! #thatsdazs #buttercookiecone #govball2023 #freeicecream #haagendazs
♬ original sound – Häagen-Dazs
18. KARAOKE CONTESTS
Returning as presenting sponsor, Coca-Cola had a far-reaching presence at this year’s Essence Festival in New Orleans. The brand’s stage was the cornerstone of its presence, providing a steady programming schedule of celebrity speakers and performers. But it also featured a stand-out fan activity: A hip-hop karaoke contest that tied into the festival’s broader celebration of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary. And let’s just say participants took it… seriously.
(Tortuga Music Festival)
19. LOVE CONNECTIONS
At the Tortuga Music Festival in Fort Lauderdale, FL, single attendees were invited to find a love connection, facilitated by festival organizers (but something a sponsor could easily recreate on their own). The event’s Dating Game invited festivalgoers to answer a series of questions on-stage for a chance to “win” a date and an upgrade to the event’s VIP section.
20. SUSTAINABLE CRAFTS
It’s not uncommon to find sponsors providing DIY friendship bracelet stations at festivals, but it’s also not typically an environmentally friendly activity—just think of all those tiny pieces of plastic. So to keep the tradition going without harming the planet, Teva enabled sustainable bracelet-making at Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shores, AL, as part of its eco-friendly, summer-camp-themed Camp Teva activation.
21. AN ART GARDEN
Adobe may not be the first brand that comes to mind when you think of festival sponsorship, but its Art Garden at Lollapalooza was a major hit this year. The footprint invited attendees to step away from the chaos of the fest and explore sculptures from local Chicago artists, snap selfies and unlock exclusive Adobe Express templates.
22. A ‘CLEAR’ MESSAGE
Vinyl records are hot among music lovers, so Bud Light Seltzer headed to Lollapalooza to deliver free, limited-edition vinyl for fans to take home. They weren’t your run-of-the-mill records, however, but rather, transparent vinyl that underscored the brand’s clear messaging that, despite common misconceptions, its product is “100% Hard Seltzer, 0% Beer.” Printed on-site, the records featured Bud Light Backyard Stage artist Charlotte Sands’ No. 1 song on Spotify, “Dress.” Approximately 350 of them were distributed over the course of the festival.
23. LOVE LETTERS TO ARTISTS
Food delivery service Popchew touted its partnership with rap artist Trippie Redd at Rolling Loud with a co-branded food truck that dished out Redd-inspired meal boxes, and for a lucky few, some surprise swag. But the most engaging touchpoint may have been a custom Love Letter mailbox set up on-site that invited fans to send fan mail to the rapper, who performed at the festival, for a chance to be incorporated into a physical mural representing his latest album, A Love Letter to You 5. (Agency: RMNG)
24. ADDING LOCAL FLAIR TO NATIONAL PROGRAMS
A cohesive national strategy fueled the new Pringles Playground pop-up that made its way to festivals around the U.S. this summer, but it wasn’t a cookie-cutter strategy. In each market, Pringles added local flair by presenting a life-sized mural representative of the host city, then invited festivalgoers to make their own mark on it with a signature or illustration. (Agency: G7 Entertainment Marketing)
25. ECO-FRIENDLY GLITTER
Glitter is a staple of music festival culture, with many attendees rocking it in their festival looks. The traditional stuff is terrible for the environment, so Smirnoff found a work-around to engage attendees at Splendour in the Grass: It provided dedicated “enviro-glitter” stations that gave attendees the option to apply some guilt-free, eco-friendly sparkle inspired by Smirnoff Seltzer flavors.
26. A REWARDS LOUNGE
The two-floor Dunkin’ Rhythm Room popped up at shows like Boston Calling and Tortuga Music Festival to provide fans with copious amounts of iced coffee and Munchkins donut holes. The ground floor featured the free samples, an “ice cube” dance floor and other quirky, on-brand touchpoints. But to access the exclusive second-floor Rewards Lounge, festivalgoers had to be part of Dunkin’s Rewards loyalty program. Rewards members were treated to glam stations with branded hair ties and glow-in-the-dark glitter, useful festival merch like fanny packs, and the chance to mingle with performers, including Noah Kahan.
27. AR-POWERED FESTIVAL MAPS
Snap expanded on its multiyear partnership with Live Nation by bringing custom AR experiences to 16 of the country’s biggest summer music festivals this year. Its can’t-miss AR Photo Towers enabled festival-specific Snapchat Lenses (like the heatwave Lens at Gov Ball) that also included a QR code at the bottom that fans could scan to enable Snap’s AR Compass (a 3D map) tool to find stages, food and other key locations.
Photo credit: The Source; Coca-Cola; AP Images for American Express; Modibodi; Alive Coverage; OnMilwaukee; Love Beauty and Planet; Bud Light; Taylor Regulski
This story appeared in the Fall 2023 issue