Summer festival season offers brands delicious opportunities to push product to a tightly-packed millennial demographic in a good mood, but beware—but the backlash can be unpredictable.
Burning Man, Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza. They’re captive gatherings of potential millennial customers to make any Chief Marketing Officer salivate. Whether it’s Kleen Kanteen providing drinking water spigots, or MTV giving away custom body painting, festival goers are now so routinely exposed to sponsored free stuff by Ford, Heineken, Vita Coco and others, there are even reviews of brand offerings afterwards. Maybe it’s fun to customize your Teva sandals amidst the pumping music and raucous crowds, but pushing brands at events with a wider philosophical message can result in online snark like this about a Coachella-inspired fashion line, or blow up into widespread disapproval of SXSW for its towering bank of screens pushing new Dorito flavors. Festivals have themselves become powerful brands of their own; often in a highly active state of flux. The 10 Principles of Burning Man call for “environments unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising,” and yet that message is already being diluted precisely because of its massive popularity. Hitching a ride on the right festival at precisely the right cultural moment is like catching a snowflake. Good luck brands, but be careful!