On the 2nd and 3rd of December we attended the EARS on Shanghai conference. Here we share some of our favourite insights:

Festivals are a lot like Artists – Reckless and Risky

Kai Amberla (Executive Director of Finland Festivals) stressed during his panel on festivals in Europe and their impact on the community and economy, that any festival that enters the market purely in response to economic incentives – the promise of easy money – is doomed to fail. Music fans are not cash cows, and they are increasingly discerning given the growth of live events here in China. Quick money comes from brands, which often drive people away through logo slapping and all the other things China Music Radar has commented on in the past.

Truly successful festivals stand for something bigger, something beyond the perimeter of a field and a line-up of stars. EXIT Festival for example manifested as a response to the continuous turmoil of the Yugoslav wars during the 90s. These festivals have the power to brand entire towns and cities (also think Glastonbury, Edinburgh Fringe Fest, Pop Montreal) and have even become synonymous with youth movements (as in the case of EXIT).

EXIT is more than a festival, it's a youth movement

EXIT is more than a festival, it’s a youth movement

There’s a lot in common between festival founders and the artists that get up on their stages. Amberla tells of how Finland’s first festival was conceived by Seppo Nummi (1932-81) a visionary – someone provocative, with outrageous ideas (in the best way possible). He first pitched the idea of a “cultural summer” in Finland, as presented in a comprehensive guide by Finland Festivals:

“No-one was likely to speak of ‘cultural summers’. The phrase was odd or – worse – old fashioned, inappropriate to the spirit of the streamlined Fifties…. Seppo Nummi (1932-81) thought otherwise. For him, ‘cultural summer’ conjured up a marvellous vision of an unbroken chain of cultural events, calling a halt once and for all to summer’s sluggish indolence, uniting the arts and the light of the north in an ecstasy lasting all summer long.”

Seppo Nummi: A Finnish dreamer

Seppo Nummi: A Finnish dreamer

These are people that dream big, and have powerful personalities that sway decision-makers: much in the same way amazing artists capture the hearts and minds of audiences. Of course for festivals and artists alike it’s a risky business; but in Amberla’s words festivals are there to make mistakes – to take risks. This may be a bitter pill to swallow for investors but we’ve seen some pretty outrageous concepts roll out this summer/autumn, which is an encouraging sign that there’s support for such dreamers in China.

How this relates to Branding:

Brands too need to be willing to take risks, and to stand for something that exists outside the paradigm of short-term ROI controls.  Too many brands follow the zeitgeist, jumping in and out of artists, genres and scenes for the sake of chasing quick wins.

This chameleon-like approach to branding can actually be more damaging than not getting involved in the first place, as the prioritisation on reacting to external shifts in consumer behaviour and the market robs a brand of any long-lasting sense of identity.  Selling-out is the kiss of death for any band; the same could be said for brands. It all comes down to credibility, to being something.