Bamboozle Is About Word-Of-Mouth And Artist Dev In 2011

John D'Esposito isn't spending any money on advertising the upcoming Bamboozle festival.

After all, why spend money on marketing when the event has an army of enthusiastic fans eager to get the word out?

"Word-of-mouth is so powerful; it's the best foundation," says D'Esposito, the event's founder and VP of talent and artist development at Live Nation, which bought a majority stake in the event in 2007.

"I can always take out radio spots, I can always hammer TV, but I can't spread the word that fast," he says. "We are right now double last year's sales with no marketing yet; only by viral and online strategies that we've launched successfully."

The youth-oriented fest has continued to grow and evolve, grossing $3.3 million last year and drawing 62,624 in a two-day sellout at New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., according to Billboard Boxscore.

This year, Bamboozle expands to three days (April 29-May 1) and boasts a genre-hopping lineup that includes Lil Wayne, Mötley Crüe, the Gaslight Anthem, Wiz Khalifa, Bruno Mars and Dashboard Confessional.

D'Esposito says the talent budget this year is "very similar" to last year's lineup, which included Paramore, Drake, Ke$ha, Weezer, MGMT and a breakout performance by Khalifa. This year's theme is artist development, he says.

"What you see [on the bill] is very top-heavy," he says, "and the middle is stacked with bands that are about to pop, that are currently tracking."

Jumping from Wayne to Crüe to Mars reflects not only what the Bamboozle kids are listening to, D'Esposito believes, but what they want to do. And what they want to do is party.

"After the success of Drake, Wayne was a no-brainer," D'Esposito says. "Last year, I think I missed the metal kids; I kind of let them down. I wanted to come back and offer them something special. There will be a lot of fist pumping and hands in the air for Mötley Crüe."

This will be a year of transition for the Bamboozle brand. For the first time since 2005, it won't be holding a festival in southern California, nor will it be returning to Chicago after an inaugural one-day event last May at Charter One Pavilion. It has also called off the opening Hoodwink fest of emerging acts at the Meadowlands, opting instead to host a Hoodwink stage at the main event.

"They are not happening, as we decided to focus on New Jersey and overall artist development," D'Esposito says, adding that "we were spreading ourselves too thin and needed to reorganize in a way that returned us to our roots."In addition to the main Bamboozle festival, the Bamboozle Road Show is also returning this year. But after taking a few lumps in larger venues last year, it will play 1,000- to 1,500-range clubs with "hip-pop" band Chiddy Bang headlining a lineup of developing bands. The tour runs May 1-June 12 and will play "party scenes," D'Esposito says, tapping into a trend he sees of kids wanting to dance at shows.

What also separates Bamboozle from other multi-act events is how the festival has tapped into its audience to keep them involved and help spread the word, whether it's by offering a winning high school its own Bamboozle prom on Friday night or launching a wealth of viral promotions and new concepts that "keep this thing relevant," D'Esposito says.

When it comes to marketing, fans are doing the heavy lifting. "We want them to feel included and help us to tap into the new streams of media, because we can't keep up with it," D'Esposito says. "We're just a small staff of three people. How do you tackle this ever-changing culture of media? Without the fans, this festival would be 30% less-marketed."

The impact on the budget is substantial, especially given media costs in the New York/New Jersey market. "We have spent zero money advertising this year's festival because we have refocused our efforts in the first quarter on building a strategic network through our fan base," D'Esposito says.

Fans are rewarded with a wide range of prizes for engaging the Bamboozle site, tweeting and posting Facebook updates about the fest. Bamboozle partners with Crowdtwist, which tracks the level of fan engagement. "They had set a goal to get 1,000 kids before May 1, and right now we're over 4,000 kids," D'Esposito says.

Prizes include all-access passes, platform seats, drum lessons from a band member and lunch with Mötley's crew."The fans are realizing that the bands are playing along," D'Esposito says. "It's a huge, unbelievably successful network I think will redefine relationships at festivals."