When billions of dollars are at stake, it’s easy to see why agencies, networks and publishers are resistance to change. But as Kodak, Sears, Blockbuster, and cab companies across the world can attest to, a blinder wearing ‘we’ve always done it this way’ ethos is a recipe for failure. And Heraclitus himself would be the first to say that resisting change doesn’t keep it from happening.
Meanwhile, there are brands that are clearing the dust on those old models. They’re investing in and aligning themselves with the live events space by tapping into people’s deep love of music. They’re collaborating with technology companies. They’re brainstorming with event producers and promoters to create authentic, enjoyable experiences where an audience is actually excited about the brand versus wanting to fast-forward through whatever it's promoting that day.
During the SXSW Music session, “Does Social Media Make Concerts Better?” panelists – Hugh McIntyre, Music Writer, Forbes; Glenn Minerley, VP Group Director, Music & Entertainment, Momentum Worldwide; Scott Carlis, VP Digital Social Media & Marketing, AEG Global Partnerships; Craig Goodfriend, Industry Manager, Facebook; and Jean-Philip Grobler, St. Lucia – did a deep dive discussion on the many layers of digital and social media’s impact on live performances.
Carlis and Minerley began by presenting data and findings from their collaborative report between AEG and Momentum, “We Know Music Fans,” based on 1,048 survey results from individuals 18 or older who had a real interest in music (75% were from the millennial age bracket), with 64% having attended a live music experience in the last 12 months. 93% said they like the brands that sponsored live events, and 80% stated that the best way to connect to them is by sponsoring a branded live music experience.
Image: We Know Music Fans Report, Momentum / AEG
HOW to Surprise and Delight Fans
Because sponsor investments in live events have become a crucial element of tour and festival balance sheets, getting it right as to not turn off the fan or the band has also become as crucial. So it was no surprise that from all the perspectives in a live music scenario - the fan, the artists, and the promoter – the conversation during the SXSW session continued to come back to how best to integrate sponsors and brands into the live experience so everyone could benefit.
“That's what we're trying to do for all our partners,” Carlis stated. “How do you take an already awesome, once in a lifetime experience, and make it that much better? How do you move beyond the logos and the marks around you and instead, make [the brand] a part of that experience?”
Carlis explained AEG’s value-add, unique activations in more detail when the two of us met the day following the session.
The first example was a partnership AEG solidified with Lyft last year, having had one-off activations previously with both Lyft and Uber. The all-in “Preferred Transportation Network” agreement started with 16 select AEG clubs and venues in Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and cities in Texas.
“If you show proof you used Lyft to get there, you have a chance to get upgraded to front-row seats,” Carlis explained. And when the show’s over, music goers go back to the designated areas called Lyft Zones to get a ride back home or to their next stop that evening. Easy peasy. “It's an organic way to help support the brand where people want to share that experience. And why wouldn't you?"
In 2014 AEG recognized the rise in their patron’s mobile use when they solidified a partnership with Samsung. When Galaxy owners attended events at one of the 41 AEG-affiliated venues and select festivals, their phones loaded with the Owner’s Hub app by Samsung became their ticket to enter contests for instant rewards such as seat upgrades, like going from the Bob Uecker section to the Samsung Suite at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, or side stage passes at the Ogden in Denver, along with exclusive downloads or free tickets to the next show.
At 2015's Coachella and New Orleans Jazzfest, the Galaxy Owner's Hub activation utitlized NFC (near-field communication) technology so festivalgoers could 'tap' their way to receiving instant rewards.
Then concertgoers were further incentivized when they shared their winnings with their social network. "That's all we're trying to do,” said Carlis, “Create that brand love connection and provide an amazing, enhanced experience."
The Art of the Authentic Brand & Artist Deal
During one point in the SXSW session, moderator McIntyre asked Minerley if he ever has challenging conversations with brands who tend to think of activations in ways that are not as authentic or organic.
"Every day of my life," he replied candidly, making up a scenario of how that conversation would play out. "I want to pay Skrillix $50,000 and I want him to do twelve [social media] posts, and this is exactly what he's going to say."
Carlis then chimed in, "That's not the most effective way for brands to be authentic in terms of the overall artist experience. We're all mindful of that."
Minerely continued, "It's an education, and unfortunately, a lot of brands look at it as they look [at traditional] venue or [sports] team deals." If a brand is doing a deal with the Lakers, for example, there are contractual deal points, such as, "I'm going to get X number of signage, with access to this customer database. I'm going to create this lounge, etc."
When it comes time to put artist deals together, brands don't always shift their mindset away from those hard lined deal points. "They look at it the same way and you can't,” added Carlis. “You've got to look at it completely different by looking at what that association with that artist is going to do for you. You have to put yourself in the artists' shoes."
Value exchange is essential as well, where Carlis in his role with AEG seeks to cultivate a long-term relationship between client and artist versus an agreement that's only fiscally based. "It's a very different relationship if I'm able to find you [the artist] a new audience. I'm able to amplify your message. I'm able to help you make a difference in a charity that you care about. It's finding that role for the brand in music, and social media allows us to amplify that role."
Jean-Phillip Grobier from St. Lucia also weighed in. "I think the reason brands work with artists is to increase their authenticity in some way, to make them seem cooler. But whenever an artist works with a brand it makes them seem less cool." This leaves the artist essentially doing a cost-benefit analysis, where they'll agree to deals that financially supports a given tour but doesn't take away from their own credibility or identity.
Grobier also sees that these deals are not as taboo as they once were. "We are not as sensitive to the idea of selling out anymore. Everyone is working with brand and corporate entities. You still, as an artist, need to know where your limit is for what you're willing to do."
Carlis also believes that when AEG is working with brands on activations and campaigns, it's essential that they're not disrupting the integrity of the artist. "How do you develop these programs? It's about working collectively instead of just force-feeding the deal points. Understanding the objectives of the artist, the brand, and the property asset itself in terms of the venue to create something really cool and smart.”
One brand that often comes up in conversation when discussing the “cool and smart” way to approach sponsorships is Red Bull, and Grobier is a fan of how that company has chosen to work with artists.
“They've taken the long view with it, where they're building this benevolent brand that feels like they support arts in so many different ways,” he explained. “We're able to use their studios anywhere in the world, completely free of charge, and they don't ask for any mention of their brand or their name. We're not forced to drink 20 cans of Red Bull per day.”
While bands are not forced to promote the Red Bull brand in anyway, as part of his regular social sharing habits, when Grobier does visit a Red Bull studio he feels compelled to share his experience there and tag Red Bull in posts.
Fans have shown to do the same at Red Bull Sound Select shows, including last year’s St. Lucia gig in Nashville. Music fans appreciate the Sound Select model, which brings their favorite bands to town many times for free or at a price point that goes back 30 or 40 years, including an upcoming show in Denver featuring Wild Nothing on April 30 - for only $3 bucks.
Grobier continued,“I think by surrounding yourself with good art and good music, and showing that you support things not just for the sake of building your brand, but for the sake of the art itself, THAT over time creates this really good connotation towards your brand.”
That is the natural and organic brand affinity that companies desire. The golden ticket.