Crowd Surfing – Mobile Marketing at Festivals

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Music festivals should be the perfect place for a spot of mobile marketing. Brands have a captive audience in the tens of thousands – as many as 175,000 at Glastonbury – all using their phones to snap photos, brag on social networks, and check which stage theyre meant to be at next. 

The reality, however, can be quite different.

“It seems that every year we are promised various mobile services at festivals but sadly I, for one, have never been impressed,” says Mark Challinor, director of mobile platforms at Telegraph Media Group and Glastonbury veteran of eight years.

Dumping a small citys worth of people into a rural area tends to take a toll on network coverage, and smartphone batteries simply arent ready for four days without electricity. And thats before taking into account the dangers of losing, smashing or drowning a £500 handset.

Nevertheless, mobile companies – and network operators in particular – put huge amounts of money into sponsoring and maintaining a presence at festivals.

Appy campers

Apps are probably the most common way sponsors make their presence felt on mobile. Four of the top five festivals in the UK this year were accompanied by an app – with Glastonburys attracting 190,000 downloads – and they can be a perfect place for brands to get their message across.

“Its soft branding, rather than a specific targeted marketing exercise,” says Vodafone senior corporate communications manager Ben Taylor. 

Ultimately, the user is trying to find information on the festival, not the brand, but being associated with a useful app can certainly have a halo effect, especially if the technology or execution is particularly impressive.

The flipside is that the brand risks hurting its reputation if there are issues with the app – something that The Telegraphs Challinor experienced with EEs branded app at Glastonbury this year.

“The official app, in the run up to the festival, was great,” says Challinor. “It included a personal planner so you didnt miss anything, as well an option to hear some of the bands material in case wanted to check out if they were worth making the effort to see. 

“Sadly, the app didnt work onsite. I was hoping for push alerts telling me my chosen artists were on shortly, but in reality there was nothing. Worse, trying to access the app at the festival, it didnt work. How many times have we seen great ideas like this in mobile, where the user experience then isnt up to scratch?”

Highly charged

Branded charging centres are another common option, giving sponsors some physical real estate on the site and offering value to festival-goers with a solution to the problems of short-lived smartphone batteries.

“There are some great opportunities for brands to do offline promotions supporting their mobile activity, like helping consumers to charge their smartphones so you can reach them on that device,” says Sarah Cantillon, client services director at digital agency Movement, which is involved in Virgin Medias V Festival. “If you can create a great app, and support that with loads of charging stations, thats the best of both worlds.” 

Theres also the opportunity also tackle the other major issue facing smartphone users at festivals – the network issues. EE, having taken over from sister brand Orange as official technology and communications partner at this years Glastonbury, took the opportunity to show off its high-speed mobile network.

“It had been two years since the last Glastonbury Festival and with the huge leaps forward in mobile technology during that time, we wanted to ensure we were supporting our customers’ connectivity needs,” said EE head of sponsorship Matt Stevenson. “We not only installed the first ever 4G network at a UK festival, offering our customers super-fast mobile internet on site, but also ensured that our 2G and 3G networks were boosted.”

The operator used this 4G network to deploy wi-fi hotspots, in places including a modified eco-friendly tractor which travelled the site. Its a great, organic way to get across the message that its the only UK operator currently able to offer 4G connectivity, by letting attendees see it for themselves.

Niche audience

Theres an ever-wider range of possibilities available to brands at festivals, as mobile technology continues to develop. Geofencing – drawing a virtual perimeter around an area to target consumers  in a particular place – is a good example, one which Ford used to enhance its outdoor materials at Bonnaroo, the largest festival in the US, using Zooves StarStar direct response platform.

On-site signage encouraged visitors to dial a shortcode on their mobile. When they rang, consumers would be greeted with a recorded message specific to the festival, followed by an SMS linking to a localised mobile landing page. Anyone outside of Bonnaroos 700-acre grounds dialling the same number would hear a different message and be linked to a different site.

“Festivals represent a niche audience rounded up with similar interests in a single place,” says Zoove marketing director Ashley Eckel. “However, they can also be a very crowded space where many brands, sponsors and the like are vying for attendees attention. Getting creative with mobile campaigns can help companies stand out in the crowd and deliver their messages, drive content or increase visibility.”

Back in the UK, this years V Festival will be the fourth to use mobile ticketing, powered by Movement, for the Virgin Media Garden, an area in the festival rewarding subscribers with a range of free services. Entry previously required printed tickets, but the move was made to mobile due a range of issues.

“Virgin wanted to improve not only redemption, but also to streamline the admission process and increase awareness of the location,” says Movements Cantillon. “It was also finding that eTickets were being auctioned online, and mobile ticketing is one way around that, because you can securely tie it to one phone.”

The Garden was pushed to customers prior to the event, via SMS, which linked them to a mobile site containing their mTicket, as well as information about the area. The sites functionality is limited – the map it offers is just a static image – but theres a good reason for that.

“As with all mobile activity at festivals, you have to be aware of issues with network reception and avoid complicated data-heavy apps, so we built a fairly light mobile site,” says Cantillon. 

Keep it simple

For mobile activity at festivals to succeed, it just takes a little consideration of the consumers particular situation, and the constraints and opportunities it presents. 

“People increasingly want to stay in contact at all times,” says Vodafones Taylor – and while thats true, the practicalities of a festival can get in the way of this. Frankly, the events are an endurance test that smartphones were never designed to face, and its for that reason that many festival-goers end up defaulting to its less glamorous ancestor – the feature phone.

At Glastonbury, EEs Recharge tent also sold pay-as-you-go handsets for £15, with £10 of credit preloaded. Its a great idea – and one which surely shifted a lot of EE SIMs – but it does somewhat contradict the message the operator was trying to get across in the first place.

“Theres a dichotomy there,” says Helen Keegan, mobile consultant and another Glasto vet. “On one hand, EE was pushing its app and the concept of high-speed 4G – and on the other, they were selling featurephones.”

The other issue, of course, is that this closes off a lot opportunities for any marketers trying to reach festival-goers on their mobiles. QR codes, NFC tags, Augmented Reality – none of these mean anything when your phone boasts a WAP connection as its most high-tech feature.

But even something as featurephone-friendly as the humble SMS can struggle in this context. Even putting aside issues with network logjams, which can cause texts to arrive hours late, theres the question of festival etiquette.

“Its not ideal to send SMS, because its a 24-hour event, and not everyone is on the same timezone,” says Keegan. “You could really annoy someone by texting them at the wrong time, and its really difficult to predict when that wrong time is, because some people are going to bed at 8am. If you text them at half 11 with a promotional message, youre just going to piss them off.” 

Armchair fans

Perhaps the answer, somewhat counter-intuitively, is that as it stands, mobile doesnt present so much of an opportunity to reach people at the festival – but rather represents a chance to connect with the people stuck at home.

“If youve got a lot of audience hanging off one mobile transmitter in a field, the signal tends to be very poor, so youre not really playing to those guys – and I dont really think the desire is there for them either,” says Andy Roberts, group programme director at UK radio station Kiss, which is Wireless Festivals media partner. “But the great thing is that this audience are also sending content to us, whether its images, tweets, or bite-sized videos, and we can then collate that and push it out for people to consume at their leisure.”

Depending on their content, the same can be true of the festivals own apps. EE partnered with the BBC to live stream video from Glastonbury – a move which is clearly aimed at the people who werent there – and even for attendees who download the apps, “theyre more for planning in the run up to the festival, and discovery post-event”, according to Roberts.

If people are eating up their precious battery at the festival, points out Movements Cantillon, “its not to have a conversation with a brand”. Alongside the strictly practical uses, theyre most likely to be pushing out content to their friends. 

On its network at Glastonbury, EE saw the ratio of uploads to downloads rise sharply, from around 1:4 to 1:2 – with upload even exceeding download during the Rolling Stones set. 

All the content coming out of the festival actually widens the audience for any on-site branding. As Vodafones Taylor acknowledges: “At the event its more about the physical presence, rather than SMS or any other remote form of marketing.” 

Given the limitations, perhaps the best option for brands is to find a way to make their physical branding at festivals work better for mobile users – whether its by helping them charge up, or linking it with geofenced materials – and saving the really clever mobile stuff for the rest of the year.