October 15, 2015
Changing Roles for Brands at Music Festivals

I recently returned from a pleasantly exhausting weekend in Austin checking out Austin City Limits with some of the area’s top experts of cool and a new favorite music artist.

I try to skip out to at least one music festival a year, usually Coachella where Chevy has a big showing off the festival grounds, so it was nice to take the Delta-Austin connection to see how they keep it weirdly authentic there.

There was some crossover from Indio in April — big showings from Drake, The Weeknd, Tame Impala, Hozier, Sylvan Esso, Alabama Shakes — but especially nice to experience broken leg rock & Ghrol with the Foo Fighters (huge highlight for me), The Decemberists, Of Monsters and Men, Billy Idol (yes, Billy Idol), Kurt Vile and The Violators, and Classixx, old friends of ours. Bummed I couldn’t make it over to Ben Howard given his great showing at Coachella a few years back, but an important lesson for festivals figuring out what tradeoffs you need to make to prioritize the acts you really want to see.

In attending and seeing all the brands activating onsite, I’m reminded of a report Frukt put out about the different roles brands are able to play at festivals.

They can be “the concierge,” connecting festivalgoers with very specific services, like HEB did sponsoring the VIP area at ACL complete with air-conditioned bathrooms — a must in the Texas heat. Or they can be “the cashier,” selling festival-exclusive products and merch like clothier H&M does at “H&M Loves Coachella.”

That said, these aren’t the roles we try to play at these festivals. Playing the cashier is hard when your product sells at dealerships that are many miles and many headspaces away from our pool party in the desert. The concierge is a tough one for us, too, as the number of brands pushing past one another to try and provide services for festivalgoers makes it a particularly crowded and pricey place.

But there are some roles we do like to play, and have played at Coachella in the past. And who knows, might for ACL in the future…

The curator

According to Frukt, some brands opt to play host to their own experience that complements, but is unique and differentiated from the festival it accompanies.

2 Chainz and Fergie performing together at our Coachella party this year

The parties we have thrown for Chevrolet over the past few years has always had a curated element, featuring performances from acts that rival the talent the festival has booked on its numerous stages, like Juicy J and 2 Chainz in recent years.

With our own program, our events can be unique to us while fitting a theme set forth by the festival: a relaxed, curated musical experience.

The catalyst

Another role brands can play at a music festival is “the catalyst,” or show-off. That entails a big, splashy experience that’s primary function is to get people talking.


A couple years ago, that was our Corvette Stingray Experience, where party guests were driven on a closed, controlled autocross track by professional drivers at speeds that leave your stomach at the starting line. We filmed each drive with GoPro cameras and texted each participant their own, personalized drive video.

It created a focal point for the party and an experience that people could engage with and share with their friends on social media. And speaking of sharing…

The conduit

The most important role we can play, in my opinion, is “the conduit.” That’s a brand that gives you something to share and many avenues to share it.

The key is to avoid the Chevy attempt a hard sell. To connect with attendees, we need to create a great experience.

This, of course, entails centralizing all your activities around a hashtag so everything being said and shared lives in one, centralized place. But more significantly, this entails giving your guests moments they can share around.

That’s why we plan events that have built-in content packages, of sorts. For example, at this year’s Chevy party celebrating the entire performance lineup, we included a “Winner’s Circle” photo opp where guests could shoot video of themselves spraying champagne on a Camaro Z/28 track car. And the content was spectacular:


In the past, we’ve used zip lines to create great imagery too. Here’s Lucy Hale’s trip over Volt Valley:

Short of getting in the darn thing and driving it, this is a way fans can engage with the product that’s meaningful and that translates into a quality impression on their friends when they share online.

As far as I’m concerned, you really have to understand your brand voice, or personality, and determine if/how it meshes with the specific vibe of the event. Each festival is unique, and not every brand is a good match. Coachella seems like the place people want to be and be seen, whereas ACL is more laid-back and focused on the music experience.

So these are the places we play — the places that have worked for us in the past. It’s too soon to say what 2016 holds, but the reason I like activating at music festivals is that they offer one key thing no matter which brand role you take on: “an opportunity to integrate … into the culture and community that the festival provides … access to,” as Bonnaroo’s Alex Machurov puts it.

If you’re considering bringing your brand to a music festival in the future, you can download the full Frukt report here. Or if you have any further questions about my experience, just ask (just like Erik Duetsch did in this recent piece).