Skip beats to tune up the brand

Corporate sponsors are making use of the latest technology in an effort to give festival-goers a memorable experience, says Sarah Balmond

Ice Cube bar, designed by Itch and Inflate

Relaxing at a festival, sipping on an ice cool drink, you are just as likely to catch a glimpse of a brand, as a band these days.

No longer the domain for an ‘alternative’ crowd, music festivals have undergone a dramatic change over the past decade, becoming increasingly branded by either one headline sponsor or a multitude of backers, all jostling for attention and stand-out in a teeming crowd.

Just this year two new branded music events are scheduled to launch: The Metro Weekender, run by London’s free newspaper The Metro, and the O2 Music Wireless Festival.

But competition is fierce and slapping a logo on a giant marquee just doesn’t cut it any more.

In-house teams are increasingly collaborating with designers to come up with exciting and subtle ways to brand events. They are seeking to create an experience for the punter that adds to the festival, rather than simply exists within it. Throw emerging technologies into the mix – the plausibility of integrating mobile mechanics, such as SMS, into design, for example – and the opportunities for innovative design appear to be limitless. Ironically, the branded music festival has created one of the most exciting areas of design.

Virgin Mobile is the headline sponsor for V Festival, but JJB Sports, Volvic, Bacardi, Motorola and Nintendo will all have a presence at the event. Virgin’s in-house design team is working closely with design groups Balance Design, Itch and Start Creative to co-ordinate the activity across its two sites.

The festival will feature various new branded elements this year, such as a series of 6m landmarks that will be scattered throughout the grounds. These monuments will function as recharge zones for mobile phones and double up as meeting points. They will be fitted and illuminated with LED screens.

Virgin is also teaming up with Motorola to create roaming ‘mobile discos’ and there will be bespoke ‘Flash-It’ pods where Virgin Mobile customers can pick up vouchers for free beer. Specially designed inflatable phones, chairs and beer trays will also be handed out for free. The VIP area, Louder Lounge, has been revamped with an interior inspired by rock star Lenny Kravitz.

Adrian Spooner, senior designer at Virgin Mobile, has been working on the project.

‘It is important that we are doing something which adds to the festival experience and makes it look better, rather than just badging it,’ he explains.

Spooner thinks sponsors have become smarter. ‘Music fans are a pretty savvy bunch and can easily switch off if the branding is overt,’ he explains. ‘It is fine to have several corporate sponsors, but it is important that it doesn’t turn into a logo-fest. It’s the responsibility of those brands to do something innovative and cool.’

Fashion retailer New Look, is making its first foray into music festivals with the launch of its quirky Fashion Funfair, part of the company’s New Now campaign (DW 2 June).

A specially decorated winnebago has been designed by Odd and features a two-minute makeover station as well as games such as Hook a Heel and Pin a Tail on the Stud.

‘This is about making fashion accessible, using the mechanics of a festival to create a fun and humorous experience,’ says Nick Stickland, founding partner at Odd .

It will travel to V Festival, T in the Park and visit other UK cities throughout the summer.

Diageo is also making its festival debut at the Isle of Wight with a custom-made, giant inflatable bar to promote alco-pop brand Smirnoff Ice. It is designed by Itch and Inflate.

The Ice Cube bar has been more than 18 months in the making. The aim was to create an inspiring, three-dimensional space that offered a ‘live experience’. It features a DJ booth and ‘minimal’ interiors.

Melanie Smith, account development manager at Diageo, says, ‘We didn’t just want to create another run-of-the-mill straight service branded bar tent. The Ice Cube is about offering an experience for our event-goers by giving them something extra to enjoy outside the named stages and other generic bars.’

Michael White, co-founder at Itch, believes that brands are now ‘putting added time and effort’ into creating different experiences and visually outstanding attractions for festivals.

‘Promoters are becoming pickier about what brands or products they promote at events as festivals become more niche,’ he adds.

However, a lot of the design work may be just skimming the surface of possibilities, according to lighting designer Jason Bruges.

According to Bruges, his studio is currently in discussion with a number of festival teams to develop interactive installations that could track crowd movements, aid in wayfinding, create more personalised ‘chill out’ environments, develop sonic branding and show playful ways of displaying festival listings.

‘How the wireless environment can connect to the physical environment hasn’t been unlocked yet by designers.

‘As traditional design responses to the festival get tired, there will be a move towards more theatrical, experiential design.’

If this prediction proves to be accurate festival design looks like it may only be in an embryonic state.

Festival Season:

Nokia Isle of Wight Festival www.isleofwightfestival.org

T4 on the Beachwww.channel4.com/t4

02 Music Wireless Festival www.wirelessfestival.co.uk

Fruitstock www.fruitstock.com

V Festival www.vfestival.com

Reading Festival www.meanfiddler.com

Creamfields www.cream.co.uk

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