You know why you should craft a customized brand experience for your audience: engagement. Delivering a memorable, meaningful and multi-sensory experience for your brand will be a valuable endeavor. The experience will share your brand story in a compelling way, generate content and drive loyalty. Whether you’re trying to raise awareness, shift perception, generate leads, boost sales or foster relationships, experiential marketing can inspire and connect your audience better than media-focused advertising. The brand experience becomes the central point in your marketing plan and integrated communications.

But where, oh where should you launch that experience?

Should you sponsor an existing event…or build one of your own?

experiential marketing at festivals

Mammoth cultural events, such as SXSW, Comic-Con and Bonnaroo, have shaped the experiential marketing industry. There are over 800 music festivals in the U.S. each year, drawing 32 million people who attend at least one per year (source: Billboard). Festivals generate social media activity, stir FOMO and offer an escape from reality for attendees.

For brands, festivals are an opportunity. Billboard reports music festival sponsorship is a $1.28 billion industry. Sponsorship activations offer brands a way to engage festivalgoers. They provide widespread coverage in one single event.


  • Event attendance draws many to the brand. To give you an idea of scale, Coachella holds about 126,000 people and the Austin City Limits festival draws approximately 450,000 people each year. Your brand will be in the middle of the crowd.
  • Majority of festivalgoers are Gen Z and Millennials, with music festivals highly targeting ages 18-34. If engaging younger audiences is vital for your brand’s health, festivals may make provide a solution.
  • Festivals have distinct cultural vibes that a brand can use for positioning. Not to mention, being present at iconic festivals shows a brand is on-trend and relevant to the festival-going audience. The brand needs to appear as innate to the overall event…and not as a marketer.
  • Festivalgoers are organically social media users. They’ll amplify the reach of the event across multiple platforms. Coverage for sponsoring brands in industry-related publications, blogs and social channels generates additional earned media.


  • Noise. There is a lot happening at a festival – music, food, campsites, partying, competing brand activations. The value you bring to the audience must be able to stand out among the exciting backdrop.
  • Showing off your authentic brand personality among the confines of a festival can be challenging. You want to “fit into” the festival – but be able to be yourself. It requires finesse to design accordingly.
  • Limits to scale. The festival takes place once a year. If you invest your entire experiential marketing budget into one sponsorship and activation, you will not be able to extend your brand experience to other audiences. Plus, some festivals expect your activation to be one-of-a-kind and not replicated at other events.


  • Your brand must have proper alignment to the festival (or other) event you’re sponsoring. Choose events that share your same ethos or culture. Your brand should truly be a fan of the festival, not just see it as a place to launch a marketing program. If your brand will be affiliated with the festival, you want to make sure it’s a good fit.
  • Audience connection. Is your audience the same as the festival’s audience? Will festivalgoers make the connection naturally to why your brand is there?
  • Consider how you will offer opt-in opportunities in order to collect lead data. You’ll want to capture data, so you can continue engaging the audience after the festival is over. Plan in advance how you’ll extend the experience with your brand to festivalgoers you meet.
  • Be sure to provide non-branded value to the festival attendees. For example, be sure you have a stack of festival maps, some free sunscreen samples or bottles of water to pass out. Providing information or service to the festivalgoers is a surefire way to seem like your activation site is woven into the fabric of the event. Festivalgoers have unique needs; sponsors of the event have a responsibility to meet those needs.


  • Heineken House has been a long-standing tradition at Coachella. This activation offers exclusive celebrity performances and Heineken on tap. The experience transforms from a chill daytime lounge to a hoppin’ nightclub vibe after the sun goes down.
  • LG powered LaundROO Lounge at Bonnaroo, where festival attendees could drop off dirty clothes and have LG wash them for free. Being a hot, summer concert where people are partying hard, laundry services are valuable! And, if you wanted to, you could trade in your clothes and swap them for a different vintage outfit.
  • Amex(R) at Panorama offered card members access to an express entrance, a complimentary beach mat and phone charger. They also had an area dedicated to giveaways and games.
  • Smaller activations rock, too. For example, Peet’s Coffee uses brand ambassadors to bicycle around the festival grounds to hand out cold brew samples. Sephora’s tent at Coachella allows you to get your hair styled or touch up your makeup before taking a social-worthy pic with a giant beauty prop. And Tito’s Vodka had a unique smaller-scale footprint at the Governors Ball. Attendees recorded a pledge for change that will be emailed to them a year later before they relaxed in a backyard-like lounge area next to a branded Airstream.

experiential marketing

Proprietary events, or brand-owned events, are a growing trend in the experiential marketing industry. After years of sponsoring festivals, expos and sporting events, brands started to roll out their own experience-driven affairs. These events come in all shapes and sizes. A one-day pop-up activation in the heart of a New York City park, or a full-on, five-day music festival that draws people far and wide. Other brand-owned events include conferences, concerts, happy hours or galas.


  • Your brand takes center stage. You’ll receive 100% of the branding at the event and not need to compete for share of voice.
  • Because it’s your event, your design and your key messaging, you never have to worry about straying from brand authenticity. Everything about the event is you – on brand and strategically relevant.
  • Full control over all event decisions is of course something to consider. You’ll choose how you want people to register, to enter, to flow through the space, etc. You have complete control over how attendees interact with your brand and the event, itself.
  • Depending on your objectives and the event, itself, it could become a new source of revenue for you.
  • Designing your own event allows you to scale your brand experience according to market exposure, budget and specific objectives.


  • Unlike sponsoring an event that already draws in attendees, hosting your own event means attendee recruitment falls to you. Event promotion may include tapping into your existing audience lists and running event-based ads across multiple channels.
  • While 100% share of voice is a positive, handling all media requests could be viewed as another daunting task. Event promotion extends to media and influencers, and if event coverage is important to you, resources need to be dedicated to PR.
  • To host your own event is to take on all of the liability of that event. Check with your insurance provider to dot every i and cross every t.
  • Trying something brand new and on your own has it’s fair share of risks in other ways, too. Even with research and strategy supporting the move, there are always unknown factors in launching something new. You may miss the mark in a few places, and your brand opens itself up to those types of vulnerabilities.


  • Is your existing audience actively engaged with your brand already? Will your audience will be interested in attending this new event? Some pre-planning polls or surveys may help guide your experiential decisions.
  • Do you have the resources in place to plan, promote and execute the event on your own? Do you have an experiential marketing agency to help see it through?
  • Would selecting a brand partner to co-host the event make sense?
  • Is the budget better spent creating and branding your own event right now, or would sponsoring an existing event be a safer decision for this year?


  • CLIF Bar’s CykelScramble is part festival, part obstacle course. The company has a greater impact on attendees, who get to experience the brand in a deeper, more meaningful way than at sponsored events.
  • Corona’s Electric Beach events are hosted in multiple markets across the U.S. They are pool parties that feature world-renowned DJs. Interactive stations, such as black light body painting, add a splash of more fun. For this brand, it’s about venturing past logo placement within a noisy event and delivering a true experience to their fans.
  • REI hosts Outessa, a series of outdoor events designed for women. These retreats offer a range of interactive experiences for both body and mind and encompass the REI spirit.

Of course, live events aren’t the only place to host a brand experience. You may want to explore the benefits of guerrilla marketing or in-store retailtainment. Once you decide where you’ll engage your audience through an interactive experience, you can focus on a strategic initiative that will captivate your audience online and off in an appealing way. To speak with one of experiential marketing professionals, please say hello.