Pet food and other nontraditional sponsors finding love from music fans

At the recent Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, the sponsors included a mix of beverages (Heineken, vitaminwater), automotive companies (Acura), technology firms (Intel) and various retailers (Whole Foods, Urban Outfitters). But there was also one new and unexpected entry - Purina, the Nestlé-owned dog and cat food company promoting its One Beyond line of natural and environmentally aware products.

Though Purina's activation included everything from pet-themed gig posters and on-demand coverage of this year's festival performers to supporting Pitchfork's green initiatives, the pairing may at first seem an odd fit for a music festival known for being choosy (and one that doesn't allow branded stages). But Pitchfork president Chris Kaskie has a less precious take on the partnership: "Pets are like pizza-if you don't love them, there's something inherently off with you," he says.

The emergence of pet food at the season's buzzy festival is just one of many moves that packaged-goods brands are making into the concert event space of late, as the music industry becomes more sports-like in its appeal to brands that go beyond the core of beverage and automotive companies.

Non-music products are appealing to more concert-goers, too-a recent study by the Havas Sports & Entertainment advertising network found that 65% of music festival attendees believe brands can improve their event experience, with fans recalling six of every 10 brands on site. In addition, 60% of those fans interacted with two or more brands at festivals, with 85% enjoying the brand activations they visited.

But brand engagement is a two-way street when it comes to social media. The Havas study found that festival-goers spend 220% more time online than the average consumer, which is why many brands are spending digital marketing dollars on physical events.

"Brands diverging dollars into artist relationships and endorsements and festivals is the right thing to do because they see it as collateral to engage their audiences," says Adrian Pettett, COO of Havas' digital ad agency Cake Group. "If you make sunglasses, you can't just have an empty Facebook page. The brand has to mean something-some reason why a consumer would want to interact with it."

Case in point: On July 19, Kellogg's Pop Tarts hosted a "pop-up" concert in Chicago featuring Carly Rae Jepsen to help kick off a "Crazy Good Summer" marketing program geared toward teens. As part of the program, Live Nation will give away 50 last-minute tickets to shows for teens who register to win through Facebook, including the ultimate prize-tickets to every Live Nation show that the fan wants to attend in 2013.

"We're really doing this to connect with as many consumers as possible via social channels," Pop Tarts senior brand manager Dick Podiak says. "As we looked at ways to make this 'crazy good,' obviously nobody at this point is bigger than Carly Rae Jepsen this summer, and we thought she would be a fabulous choice."

Facebook also helped Pop Tarts "sell out" the Chicago concert in less than two hours after the company blasted out the news to its 4 million fans, a sign that brands with active followings can have just as much clout as artists. Pop Tarts will keep its campaign active with TV ads throughout the summer, culminating in another show in New York before Labor Day.

"Other brands may jump in and jump out of promotions like this," Live Nation Network president Russell Wallach says. "The fact that Pop Tarts will be there all summer long will help them connect more strongly with teens."

Advertising analytics firm PQ Media is also prepping a 2012 industry forecast for September in which entertainment sponsorship and marketing will be cited as the fastest-growing category of the estimated $25 billion event sponsorship marketplace, growing in the high-single-digit range. "Particularly since the sports marketing part of events has seen a little bit of a downtick with the drop in attendance to NASCAR events," PQ Media VP of research Leo Kivijarv says. "That's why we're seeing the entertainment area as the fastest-growing part of the category."