Marrying Brands With Music

By Michael Lucas

russell_wallach_250xBrands are using music in their advertising, supporting concerts and sponsoring artists all in the hopes of connecting to a wider audience—and they’re spending a lot of money to do it. This summer, more than $1.34 billion will be spent sponsoring music venues, festivals and tours this year, a 4.4% increase from 2013, according to IEG. Music festivals are bringing young people together in record numbers—and savvy marketers are partnering up with concert organizers in ways never before.

The biggest festival producer in the world is Live Nation, boasting 63 fests in its portfolio. Live Nation currently draws five million fans and they expect that audience to grow 10 percent this year alone. Live Nation’s sponsorship and advertising business for the first quarter of this year saw revenue of $45 million, up 13% over last year, with increases in both sponsorships and online advertising globally.

We recently caught up with Live Nation’s President, Media & Sponsorship Russell Wallach—the man largely responsible for their growing sponsorship department. Here’s what he had to say …

Why are festivals so popular right now?

Festivals continue to grow in popularity because they offer the opportunity to immerse yourself in a shared experience—with your friends and making new friends—over multiple days filled with the music of world-class and cutting edge artists on multiple stages, as well as a variety of ancillary activity and often camping, all within the same outdoor setting. For some fans it’s an annual ritual. One thing is for sure, fans don’t just attend festivals—they experience them!

What’s the secret to marrying a band to a brand? How does a brand effectively market and reach this elusive audience?

There isn’t an exact secret; it’s aligning a brand with a band that has similar core values and resonates with a certain demographic. Sometimes the brand can help amplify the band through the right messaging with advertising and making them part of their marketing pillars. Fans are open to being marketed to by a brand if it feels authentic and enhances, rather than takes away, from the live experience.

Can you go into detail, possibly share a Case study of current clients who are effectively reaching the “Under 30” market via Live Nation activations?

Motorola became the Official Live Nation EDM Wireless Handset sponsor. Their target audience is Millennials. The program, which included EDC Vegas, featured five EDM festival events completed in 2013 with six more in 2014. We created the Moto X Tower and Kandi Shop for the on-site experience where fans could express their creativity by creating their own bracelets from thousands of beads in the Kandi Shop.

moto kandi shop

Joining the Kandi Shop is the six-story Moto X LED Tower that geo-fences and displays social media photos taken at the festival as well as taking center stage twice a night for Moto moments when Motorola takes the spotlight and features branding, pyro and colorful lasers.

Through the five festivals in 2013, the Kandi Shop distributed 3.5 million beads and fans made over 175,000 bracelets. In addition, over 50,000 pieces of social media were geo-fenced and more than 10,000 brand-relevant social media photos and videos were displayed on the LED tower.

Quite an impact. Are festival producers changing the way they market to their audiences?

Yes and no. Of course, Live Nation as a festival producer is always looking for the best talent that will reach the most fans and we want to create special, unique festival experiences. So, the reality is that for established festivals, the fans look forward to the experience and come to expect Live Nation will deliver the level of talent we have delivered in the past. We’re seeing a lot of chatter on social and digital platforms. Fans tweet about their excitement for an upcoming festival—share a link—their friends see it, and then they connect to schedule to go together. It then snowballs from there and the group continues to grow, all from social sharing.

A perfect example is that we sold out for our Electric Daisy Carnival in a day; 400,000 attendees, yet we didn’t announce a single performer. That speaks to the power of these festivals for our fans and for our brand partners

EDC Las Vegas 2013

What does Live Nation look for in a successful partnership?

We look for partners who are interested in a mutually beneficial relationship and who are willing to push the boundaries of creativity. We always like to ask ourselves what hasn’t been done, but will enhance the experience for the fan. How can we make that happen? Partners that want to help work towards that goal yield the most successful partnerships.

Is there a tipping point? A perception of over-commercialized festivals? How do you know when to say when?

There may be a tipping point and the audience will dictate where that is. When it comes to sponsorship and brand activation at festivals, the key is relevancy. When the brand is relevant to the audience, and the activation or related content is useful and interesting to the attendees, when it enhances the festival-goers experience, then it works for the brand, the attendee and the event over all. That is what we strive for at Live Nation festivals. And, as long as that is the goal, if making the experience for the fan your priority, you won’t be over-commercialized.

Can you discuss this new generation of concert goers, armed with smartphone cameras, etc.? Where is this content going?

You’re absolutely right, they live with their phones in their hands, and are constantly sharing with people. The content living online, on social networks, on video sites, all over the web. That was the focus of our redesign of the new, where we turned the site from an e-commerce ticketing site to a social hub of music. We are able to geo-locate all of the publicly shared content and then host it onto our site, which turns our site into a virtual social scrapbook of sorts, capturing each and every show for fans to re-live on demand.

You have been at Live Nation and its predecessors for a number of years. What major changes within the company & industry have you witnessed during that time?

The growth of music and live entertainment continues to impress me, when you think about where we were just five, ten years ago. Social media and YouTube were both nowhere near the levels of where they are now. Artists can now directly communicate with fans. We’ve built several digital and social businesses that just didn’t exist before. The result has been exponential growth in our ability to connect with fans directly, intelligently and leverage that connection with brands. In the same sense, brands are also realizing that music is a better way to connect with millennials than sports, which used to be the main way to reach key demographics.

Live Nation has moved aggressively within EDM space these past years. What is the reason for this?

EDM is the fastest growing genre in music, particularly amongst millennials, who continue to grow into that target demographic. We’d be remiss to not recognize it as it continues to grow and amongst our fans and we think about how to help align brands with the genre in an authentic, genuine way.

Best concert you’ve been to?

It’s hard to say. I’ve been fortunate to see so many. EDC Las Vegas, Jay-Z, Springsteen, U2. I could go on and on. I still remember the first concert I saw as a teenager, and I still get psyched to see shows now. I always think, “The next one may be the best one!”