Honda’s Activations Have Increased with Music Festivals’ Need for Sponsors


Live music festivals are blinking off the map for a wide variety of reasons.

A recent example is the Sasquatch Music Festival. The annual music festival was held at The Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington (wait, really?). The festival started in 2002 with an emphasis on indie rock and jam bands and grew to a multi-day event featuring musical acts and comedians. However, over the past few fests attendance has been dropping. And the founder of the festival, Adam Zacks, recently announced that it would not return for 2019.

Another example is the Sound on Sound festival, which was to take place in Austin, Texas, had to cancel just five weeks before Iggy Pop, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Grizzly Bear, and others were set to hit the stage for a three-day event. The reason? A major investor backed out, a move that wasn’t related to ticket sales, which were said to be on track. Everyone with a ticket received a full refund.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for those holding tickets to Canada’s Pemberton Music Festival. Canceled last year due to a massive lack of funding, the organization behind Pemberton filed for bankruptcy and cites this as a reason for withholding refunds.

When most festivals close their doors, it is due to financial reasons. To combat declining attendance, festival organizers need to find ways to entice people to attend. It is no longer simply enough to provide an impressive musical line up – that’s already happening, and attendance is dropping.

Potential attendees need to be wooed back to music festivals – and a big component of that will be sponsorships. Not just branding on a stage and banners throughout the grounds, sponsors need to provide value to attendees.

Photo Credit: Explore Georgia

For their part, sponsors seem to have recognized this. In 2017, sponsorship spending totaled $1.54 billion, which was up 4.8 percent from 2016. That 2016 number was $1.47 billion dollars, up from the previous year’s total of $1.4 billion, which was up 4.8 percent from 2014. This is a trend that can be traced back to 2009 when music festival and tour sponsorships totaled $1.1 billion – a 3.8 percent increase from the $1 billion spent in 2008. In fact, overall sponsorship spending on music fests is consistently increasing and outperforming sponsorship in other industries, including sports and overall sponsorships.

Sponsors have recognized that the majority of attendees at music festivals are millennials. This group of 18- to 30-year-olds are highly coveted by advertisers. It is also a group that has become extremely adroit at avoiding traditional advertising, through cord cutting, using ad blocking software, etc. They are also very good at avoiding non-traditional advertising, as well. A recent study found that as Facebook became more adept with targeting its social media advertising, the average user of the platform began to trend older, meaning Millennials were jumping ship when their feeds started filling up with ads.

However, it turns out that millennials actually don’t mind advertising, it just has to be advertising that engages them as opposed to targets them.

An enlightening example is the way Honda has evolved its music festival activations.

For over a decade, Honda has been involved with several music festivals, including Austin City Limits Music Festival, the Governors Ball Music Festival, Music Midtown, Lollapalooza, and the erstwhile Sasquatch Music Festival.

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Photo Credit: Automotive News

At first, Honda patronage was primarily limited to sponsoring the main stage. But as Honda’s commitment to these music festivals continued, its involvement increased.

For example, at the 2017 Austin City Limits Music Festival, Honda not only sponsored a stage, it also teamed with Waterloo for a signing area, showcased a custom-designed car, and provided complimentary rides to attendees.

The “Hail-A-Honda” Complimentary Rideshare provided complimentary rides to attendees over the festival’s two weekends. The cars were hailed through the Ride Austin app, Austin’s nonprofit rideshare program, by selecting the “Honda” vehicle class button. The cars were wrapped in Austin City Limits Music Festival branding and could accommodate up to four passengers. Riders were also given free water and a bandana during the ride.

As for the decorative car, Honda paired with Australian husband-and-wife visual artists DABSMYLA, who are known for their imaginative art. The customized Honda Civic Hatchback was on display at the Honda x Waterloo Records Artist Signing Stage, where fans could get albums signed by performing artists.

Honda’s sponsorship evolved similarly with this year’s Governors Ball Music Festival held on Randall’s Island in New York City. In addition to the sponsored stage, which the brand has been providing since 2012, Honda also offered a two-story structure with a DJ and elevated viewing deck. There were Governors Ball fake tattoos available at the entrance and several different cars on hand for people to interact with and use to charge their devices: a sport, hatchback, and hybrid.

Photo Credit: Event Marketer

In fact, a key point of the activation was to educate attendees about electric-powered vehicles, like the Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid.

“On the East Coast and Midwest, when it comes to this kind of technology, consumers are afraid of it,” Susie Rossick, Assistant Vice President of Marketing at Honda, said to Event Marketer. “What we want to do with our communications, and being out there at a festival like Governors Ball, is talk to consumers about how they don’t have to worry about that. It runs on electric and then it has gas when you need it.”

For Honda, it’s important to get their products in front of a millennial audience. The point is not really to encourage them to buy a car right away. It is more important for the brand to integrate into their lives. Then, when they are ready to make a car purchase, Honda will be top of mind.

“We’re noticing that they’re waiting to make their purchases until a little bit later in life when they’re settled,” said Rossick. “We just want to make sure we’re front and center with them, and a music festival is a perfect opportunity to do that.”

“Experiential marketing is important when it’s done right. We don’t activate or take on a lot of properties if we can’t do them correctly.”

By creating a personal, authentic experience, brand activations have a great chance of creating a loyal, returning customer. When brands bring value to music festivals, they provide a service for the attendees and bolster what the fest has to offer.

“We’ve done that for a few years now, so we wanted to try something different that was a little more interactive and gave consumers this opportunity to engage with what was going on inside of the activation,” said Rossick. “You have to try new things in order to find out what works and what doesn’t work.”

For more thoughts about how your brand can provide value to a music festival and its attendees, give Event Architecture a call at 972-323-9433.