A newly-published report from Frukt, our counterpart in the West, offers a breakdown of the kinds of brand activations that are taking place around the world.

Frukt’s report Field Work: An Evolution of the Branded Festival Sector begins with a bold call for brands and organizers alike to truly innovate and use offline activations as an opportunity to do something brave. This is set against a backdrop of what some speculate is the beginning of a downward spiral in brand expenditure on live events (albeit this is from a global perspective). The reason for this isn’t so much that there is a lack of money, but rather, that some brands find difficulty in turning activations into meaningful ROI, and furthermore, are suffering from ‘brand apathy’. This means basically that brands aren’t engaging with the opportunity an activation affords full-heartedly. Frukt offer three ways to offset this apathy:

1 – Resisting

Staunchly refusing to be complacent. People change all the time – just because one strategy worked before, this doesn’t justify a cookie-cutter approach to further brand activities, even if they go under the same IP.

2 – Reimagining

Throwing out any preconceptions of what is possible. Creating great ideas and working backwards to figure out how to overcome technical barriers will ensure you’re always pushing the boundaries of your possibilities, even if you’re working with a shoestring budget.

3 – Reengineering

Lifting the lid on the real ‘value’ of aligning with a festival. Try to redefine what an activation is, and your expectations of how people will play. Behaviors are the originating point for ROI – what a person does moderates how it can be measured, and the measurement informs everything leading up to the sale.

As a side, festival organizers too should be held responsible for ensuring they’re working with brands to maximize the opportunity and create a narrative around everything that takes place on and off site.

Six Festival Activation Models

Frukt classifies festival activations into 6 models. Rather than rehashing Frukt’s case studies, we thought we would try to draw our own examples from China to help you understand which may be best suited to your brand.

The Cashier

Description: a brand that takes a no frills approach to selling or directly promoting a product through sampling and simple product-centric games.

Case Study:

Go Player @ Electric Circus Electronic Music Festival 2014

Go Player is an incumbent energy drink brand in direct competition with Red Bull and a slew of local copycat beverages. As you can see from the pictures, the brand basically set up shop, opening a branded bar that only offered the flagship product. There were no side activities or programming aside from a single television screen. The left side of the booth was flanked by a Heineken installation creating an ‘F&B expo’ vibe. While it was difficult to compete with the noise of the main event, Go Player could have incorporated some fun games. Their “Go Player Challenge Pack” (FCB Shanghai) strategy received a lot of praise for getting people in gyms interested in the beverage.

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The Curator

Description: a curated space that may host multiple activations at once. There is more emphasis on building a themed asset around product placement and trialling.

Case Study:

NBA Rucker Park @ Black Rabbit 2011

In 2011 Split Works worked with the NBA to recreate an old-school street vibe within the context of the Black Rabbit Music Festival. The Black Rabbit Block Party was one of the primary musical entertainment spaces at Black Rabbit, covering approximately 3,000sqm. At the Block Party space we created an archetypal 1970’s Harlem setting, complete with street ballers, DJ’s, dancers, models, MC’s and King of the Court tournaments. The activation was successful because it struck key audience passion points and was appropriate for the site.

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The Catalyst

Description: Activities that are geared toward attracting eyeballs – they’re in your face, fun, crazy, but can sometimes risk feeling too showy / detached from the wider festival.

Case Study:

Tianailu @ Midi Music Festival 2014

At the 2014 Yangtze Midi and Taihu Midi Music Festivals, local sex toy brand “Tianailu” attracted many fans to participate in a bit of spontaneous play, by hosting a pillow fight which was positioned alongside other intimately-themed installations. As stated, the only risk with this sort of activity is that it may come across as too gimmicky, impacting on the perceived authenticity of the event. Judging by the pictures though it looks like it was a lot of fun.

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The Conduit

Description: These campaigns are built to encourage sharing beyond the site, making the activation a hub for content generation. Fans are encouraged to use their phones to engage in some way, and to share activities with their online friends.

Case Study:

ASOS @ Strawberry Festival (Shanghai) 2015

At Strawberry Festival 2015, ASOS created an installation where fans could pose and take photos. Props were also available, adding in a more fun element. To make this a truly social experience, ASOS partnered with photo app “Nice”, creating the hashtag (#asosme) to drive people to the brand Wechat account. A number of incentives were offered in return for participating:

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Follow ASOS WeChat – 50 RMB coupon

1)             Take photos and use #asosme stickers on the Nice APP

2)             Upload a photo to Weibo or WeChat with the hashtag #asosme

3)         Every hour, a winner will be selected as the “Best Dresser” (from 13:00 to 20:00, 8 winners in total) – each will receive a 500 RMB coupon.

4)          One “Boss Dresser” will be selected after the event to receive a 3000RMB coupon.

WeChat followers may even have the chance to join an ASOS secret party

The strategic partnership between ASOS and Nice app was very clever, and helped the brand maximize the opportunity.

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The Creator

Description: In this model, brands offer a creative outlet for fans, enabling hands-on projects based around a product or service.

Case Study:

Tuborg Beer Town @ Strawberry Festival (Shanghai & Chengdu) 2015

As a major festival sponsor, Tuborg benefited from having a dedicated zone rather than just a single booth on the festival site. The Tuborg Beer Town hosted activities ranging from gaming, graffiti, make-up and more, alongside DJs and a VIP area. Fans could dress up and make themselves look ridiculous, tying into the carnival-esque vibes of the festival. The Chengdu edition even featured a Mahjong competition where fans could play against each other in their crazy outfits. This example isn’t perhaps a perfect fit for the category, simply because brand activations that go full-out creative tend to be held in locations that are easy to control, for example live venues and photography studios (House of Vans is a good example of this). As brands in China become more experienced, they may dabble in enabling freer forms of self-expression.

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The Concierge

Description: A concierge brand takes care of fans or attendees at an event, adding a layer of comfort and convenience. These are experience- enhancing initiatives.

Case Study:

Cadillac @ Shanghai Film Fest 2010-15

Returning for a 5th year, Cadillac sponsored the prestigious Shanghai Film Awards, providing a fleet of cars to escort VIP guests to and from the various venues across the city. It’s a win-win partnership: of course for such an event, transportation is crucial, but choosing to partner with one brand over five years adds a certain consistency and ensures that Cadillac becomes synonymous with a specific art form and audience.

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What’s your model?

These six models are not mutually exclusive, and elements of two or more might be appropriate for your brand, depending on the available space and budgetary constraints. Perhaps the key takeaway from this report is to avoid becoming too content with the current paradigm (brand apathy). Remember the three key words: resist, reimagine and reengineer, and allow these to inform your creative approach. All stakeholders have a duty to really build into the experience, adding something that extends the community, the culture and wider festival narrative.

You can read the original report here.