Brand activations can take on many forms, but loosely, it is a marketing effort by a brand to link itself to another. Successful brand activations lead to higher consumer awareness and engagement. The goal? Loyalty, and a more-lasting connection between brand and consumer. Profit follows, of course. However, while the days of slapping a “Fig Newton” logo on a Nascar driver are not gone, times have changed. Methods of connecting brands with consumers have become wildly inventive.
For one of 2019’s best examples, look no further than the oh-so-hyped Coachella, a popular music festival in Indio, California. This year the likes of Childish Gambino, Tame Impala, and Ariana Grande graced the stages – big names to millennials. To speak of loyalty, these artists have active, loyal fan bases that marketing professionals would do well to tap into. In 2019, they did just that. Brand activations at Coachella were varied, well-executed and everywhere. They raised awareness and loyalty in an array of ways. Here are some of the best:
In 2019, even the multinational tech company got in on Coachella’s hype. Amazon offered a special perk: festival goers could schedule last-minute deliveries of items they’d forgotten – important things like hats, sunscreen and phone chargers. Items were delivered that same weekend to yellow on-site Amazon Lockers, and at no extra charge to the user. Obviously, no other 2019 Coachella brand activation could offer such a handy service. Amazon is unique in its infrastructure for delivery, but this list will reveal “no charge” offers to be quite common…
Not to be outdone in the tech space, HP activated their brand with “tech lounges”, where interested festival goers could test new Intel products. It was mutually beneficial: HP generated social media buzz surrounding their latest tech, and visitors enjoyed the opportunity to play around while savoring the lounge’s air conditioning. At Coachella, A/C is its own currency! Other brands on this list use cold air in a similar fashion. Indio is incredibly hot.
The credit card company bolstered brand awareness by offering festival goers several perks. First, if a consumer signed up for a credit card, they received an exclusive invitation to their off-site “Platinum House”: free drinks at The Avalon Hotel in Palm Springs. Next, they were given free passes for custom embroidery on festival merch like t-shirts and hats. Last, they offered complimentary rides on the Coachella Ferris wheel. Noticing a theme? Offerings of free stuff go a long way for brand promotion.
Aside from placing their famous hashtag – #mycalvins – throughout the grounds, C.K. also built a room entirely for branded photo ops. It was made for Instagram publicity. Folks lined up to wander through a California-styled, 70s-themed living room, snapping pictures and spreading the brand. The offering here is more of a free experience than a physical item. C.K is up to date with 2019 trends, as similar paid “Instagram photo ops” have popped up around the U.S. in the form of styled rooms, or entire museums.
The popular women’s fashion line threw a Coachella party during festival weekend. It was considered one of the most exclusive off-site parties this year. SHEIN not only activated their brand with the Coachella connection, but with a slieu of Instagram influencers. Through in-person and online giveaways, consumers were given free SHEIN clothes styled for a distinct “festival-look”. Their hashtag – #SHEINFestival – was put to good use. Coachella is only the main event; side parties like SHEIN’s add an air of exclusivity to the festival, while rapidly raising brand awareness.
The Dutch Lager company tried brand activation through an obvious method at a music festival: a musician tie-in. To boost attendance at their tap house, Heineken surprised fans with a performance from DJ Diplo. Diplo was already a Coachella 2019 performer, but Heineken sparked further buzz for their brand through this extra musical act. Heineken’s branding is not too different from the pack. A complimentary second performance could be considered yet another “free offering” to festival goers.
Like Heineken, Absolut set up a unique space at the festival: a neon-colored tent placed strategically between the outdoor theater and main stage. Similarly too, they secured musical appearances from DJ Amika Akaka and singer Rita Ora. Absolut talked up the all-inclusive nature of their Coachella tent: people of all cultures and identities were encouraged to stop by and taste new lime cocktails. Absolut also achieved prime brand activation by securing the spot of Coachella 2019’s “official vodka”. Free samples, extra performances and a headline-status made Absolut stand out this year.
Peet’s Cold Brew
Rounding out the beverage companies for this list, Peet’s also took advantage of the desert heat, offering “Recharge and Refresh Zones” complete with cold misters. Guests could cool off while sampling tastes of the trendiest cold brews. Like HP offering A/C, Peet’s knows festival goers are always looking to beat the heat, and like Absolut, they know the value of a free drink sample.
BMW activated their brand with a thoughtful musical tie-in to a 2019 performer. Rising R&B singer/songwriter Khalid launched a promo campaign for his newest album, “Free Spirit” in the form of a photoshoot with the BMW i8 coupe. With that, Khalid announced plans for #RoadToCoachella, in which he’d drive the i8 – painted to resemble his album art – to the festival alongside VIP influencers. The entourage took a pit stop in Palm Springs to meet up with fans too. In an interview with US Weekly, Khalid explained, “To me, [BMW i8], is the embodiment of freedom on the road. I really feel like a free spirit when I’m driving and listening to music. I love making music that you can crank up and drive to with the windows down.” In this case, BMW connected their brand to a Coachella artist and his specific album.
Instagram’s 2019 Coachella activation was yet another off-site party house (the first in the company’s history). The party invited everyone: mainly influencers, but also content creators, artists and managers of talent. This year’s theme was a south-western style casa. It seems to have been successful in promoting Instagram already prolific brand. Who wouldn’t want to attend the exclusive party of the primary social media photo share app?
Yes, you’ve read that correctly. The last entry on this list is another festival entirely. Marketed as a “before Coachella” party, the fourth annual Revolve Festival was held outside Indio. It featured it all: celebrity musicians, fashion models and wild DJ sets. Overall, there were roughly 130 influencers in attendance. Merchandise for the Revolve brand was everywhere. In some years, their #RevolveFestival has been the second most used brand hashtag, topped only by #Coachella itself.
What Does a Coachella Experiential Activation Say About These Brands?
This list demonstrates how 2019 marketing tactics have evolved. Brand activations are no longer just celebrity cereal box tie-ins, but entire experiences. After Coachella 2019, festival goers associate these brands with parties, free merch, ferris wheel rides, photo opportunities, and even air conditioning. Consumers have likely become more loyal to the brands that gave them such experiences. Smartly, brands activations also used preexisting love held by fans for Coachella’s musicians. Surprise appearances from someone’s favorite DJ at a branded tent could instill lasting loyalty. It might make Absolut their preferred vodka for life, for instance.
The vast majority of consumers not attending Coachella were reached by festival influencer posts, and attendees using a variety of hashtags. Coachella helps these brands connect with many people in a specific demographic: millennials. A 2017 Forbes study reported that millennials would soon overtake baby boomers as the largest living generation, with the most spending power too. Even century-old brands like BMW are clearly positioning millennials as their prime focus. Brand presence at Coachella is a powerful method of generating social media buzz, and studies have shown that millennials respond: they are more likely to become loyal to a brand with a strong social media presence. Brands are forced to attempt innovative marketing tactics at festivals because millennials will not respond otherwise. They have become hyper-aware of traditional marketing, and brand messaging will be lost unless it relates to something they care about.
So as a marketing professional, how does one promote a brand through the internet’s noise? How could one cut through the clutter of competing for social media posts to reach millennials? To start, one might brand through avenues millennials care about: a tie-in with a popular musician, free festival merch, free experiences and perhaps an exclusive event invite. Overall, it seems Coachella is the perfect place to activate a brand in 2019.