The Foo Fighters playing fans' personal garages on behalf of BlackBerry. Weezer rerecording the jingle of State Farm, its Memories tour sponsor. Lady Gaga calling a fan every night from the stage through Virgin Mobile. The abundance of such close relationships between major acts and major brands on the touring circuit would've seemed absurd even two years ago. But the brutal touring season of 2010 necessitated many changes this year, with a number of major summer runs canceled or significantly scaled back due to poor sales-full-year attendance was down 12% compared with 2009, according to Billboard Boxscore.
So, as leading promoters like Live Nation and AEG Live scrambled to diversify their revenue, A-list artists and top-tier festivals got savvier about new ways to work with marketers. Chicago-based sponsorship analytics firm IEG estimated that U.S. brands spent $1.2 billion on music venues, festivals and tours in 2011, a 7.3% increase from 2010. That includes sponsorship slots for top fests like Coachella and Lollapalooza, 26 different marketing partners for this year's Bonnaroo and a busy summer season overall. Live Nation alone was up 13.5% in sponsorship revenue during the first nine months of 2011, to $147.1 million, while privately held AEG enjoyed a healthy summer sponsorship season as well.
Live Nation Network president Russell Wallach says music is on its way to finally becoming as much a priority to marketers as sports has been for years. "Brands are looking at it as a way to touch fans and reach consumers in a very targeted environment," he says. "There are so many ways you can activate now."
Social media budgets are driving a large part of this year's investments too, particularly as companies start their own branded tours-such as the Toyota Antics, Samsung Krush and Honda Civic campaigns-and sponsor more venue-direct programs. Kenton Longstreth, an innovations producer at media agency Initiative, says digital marketing has given concert sponsorships a whole new scale.
"It's one thing to reach 25,000 people at a concert or 80,000 over four days at a festival," he says, "but it's another thing to have the funds in place to capture that content and distribute that across the social graphs and various portals where we know our audiences are online."
Large-scale events are quickly becoming one-stop shops for consumer brands, notes Chad Issaq, executive VP of partnerships at event marketing agency Superfly Presents, which sold sponsorships to this year's Bonnaroo and Outside Lands festivals. "Being able to connect at the national level at a festival, every brand wants to be a part of that," he says. "It's a great way for brands to get more market share."
For years, the concert circuit was dominated by liquor, beer and electronic companies, with the occasional car sponsor. But as more marketers clamor to reach the young, hipster set that frequents festivals as well as the diverse families that attend arena shows, some consumer packaged-goods and insurance brands are also starting to show up.
"Years ago, it was a struggle to even have conversations with venues in this space. They didn't feel it was authentic," says Todd Fischer, manager of national sponsorships at State Farm. "We had to earn that respect of fans and the industry over time."
This past year, State Farm looked for ways to add value to the concert experience. Not only did the company team up with Weezer for the band's 2010-11 tour-where it made four fans' dreams come true through its "Grantin' Wishes With Weezer" promotion-it also sponsored a "bag valet" at Lollapalooza that allowed people to check their stuff with the option of sharing their customer information. Fischer says the company generated about 250 leads, or prospective customers, just from its three days at Lollapalooza, while the Weezer tour drew about 4,700 interactions with its on-site photo studio.
L'Oreal's Garnier Fructis has been taking a similar approach to its multiyear sponsorships of Bonnaroo and New Orleans' Voodoo Music Festival, where the shampoo brand sets up a complimentary salon for attendees. "If you have been to Bonnaroo, you know how nice it is to have clean, fresh-smelling hair," L'Oreal VP of media and integrated marketing Deborah Marquardt says. This year's Bonnaroo also gave Garnier a chance to synch up its sponsorship with another musical marketing initiative, the final battle of the bands for its Rolling Stone "Choose the Cover" contest, which let fans pick one unsigned act to grace the magazine's cover.
"It gets bigger every year," Marquardt says of the company's presence at Bonnaroo. "It's in the tens of thousands of [product] samples. And since our salon is right in the center [of the festival], we'll have three-hour lines in the morning of people lining up to be styled by us."
And just as the sponsors at concerts have diversified, so have the artists and venues benefiting from their support. Live Nation's Wallach says that brands are just as interested in midsize stages suited to developing artists as they are in mega-festivals and arenas with big-name acts. Natasha Bedingfield played a club tour with Freschetta as an integrated sponsor, and 30 Seconds to Mars did the same with HP. "Those acts are not as expensive," Wallach says. "You don't have to spend seven to eight figures and you still get 20-30 dates."
Even concert promoter Bowery Presents, home to New York indie venues like Bowery Ballroom, Terminal 5 and Webster Hall as well as locations in other cities like Boston and Philadelphia, has started to profit from the influx of ad dollars.
"The frequency of events is growing with the demand to activate in markets outside the top five to 10 markets nationwide," head of media and strategic partnerships Jason Ross says. "So even developing artists that might not have been on the brand radar just a few years ago are seeing opportunities as well."
And with labels' marketing budgets shrinking and radio playlists becoming even harder for emerging bands to crack, look for artists to rely on consumer brands for support even more going forward.
"[It's] important to get the record out there," Wallach said at Billboard's Touring Conference & Awards in November. "If you're the brand and understand it's important to the artist, you're going to get so much more from that artist by helping them sell the record. They may say OK to 10 other things they never would've said OK to, just because you're helping them sell more music."