More than any U.S. festival, Lollapalooza brings the brands. From fully-branded stages by Sony, PlayStation, Bud Light, Google Play, BMI and Red Bull to a bag check from State Farm, free T-shirts from The Gap and two different activations from Toyota (a Free Yr Radio lounge and a Prius Family Playground), among many others, the festival once again literally gives other music confabs a run for their money.
Driving the trend is a continued shift or combination of advertising dollars from digital to music activation budgets, enough to make entertainment sponsorship and marketing the fastest growing of the estimated $25 billion marketplace in 2012, according to ad analytics firm PQ Media. Leo Kivijarv, PQ Media's vice president of research, expects entertainment sponsorships to post growth in the high single digit range when PQ Media reports its 2012 industry forecast in September with research partners Veronis Suhler Stevenson.
The Gap/Threadless V.I.Tee Trailer
"Particularly since the sports marketing part of events has seen a little bit of a downtick with the drop in attendance to NASCAR events, that's why we're seeing the entertainment area as the fastest growing part of the category," Kivijarv told Billboard in July.
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, as Billboard reported in its end-of-year sponsorship report last December.
Courtney Trucksess, C3's director of sponsorships, says "there definitely are more" brand partners than in years past at Lollapalooza, now celebrating its eighth year as a standalone festival in Chicago's Grant Park. "We've partnered with ones that really connect with Lollapalooza and the Lolla fans, and you'll see them year after year," she says, pointing to 8-year relationships with brands like Adidas, PlayStation and Citi. "What they're doing on-site is stuff that fans love and is relevant… providing some neat things you can take away and say 'that was really cool.' Over time, sponsors have gotten more savvy about enhancements to the experience to really get that return on their investment."
Why is Lollapalooza the most popular of all? For starters, the naming rights to its stages are more brand-friendly than festivals like Bonnaroo, Outside Lands or Pitchfork, the latter of which doesn't allow any sponsored stages. But it's also for the massive attendance, as last year's Lolla was 2011's most-attended festival with a record 270,000 attendees (and the year's second highest-grossing festival in terms of ticket sales, next to Coachella.)
And for new sponsors like The Gap, Lollapalooza represents a big cap-off to a series of summer music festival sponsorships, following first-time activations at Bonnaroo and Wanderlust. Kimberly Terry, Gap's senior manager of brand engagement, partnerships and PR, says the retailer was looking to find impactful ways to make their re-designed summer T-shirt collection reach consumers through pop culture and partnerships with startups like Pinterest, P.S. I Made This and Chicago-based crowd-sourced T-shirt makers Threadless. "We have a long history in music and we wanted to tie that in with our T-shirt program as a platform for self-expression," Terry says. "Festivals enable us to connect with young consumers and just create a great integrated experience that we can bring to a broader audience through social media."
The Playstation phone charging tent
Even the unofficial Lollapalooza-related after-parties all around Chicago seemed to have lured a higher than usual roster of brands this year, from Taco Bell's Conflict of Interest Party Thursday night to BMF Media's Hard Rock Hotel parties (co-sponsored by CK One, Belvedere and VH1) to Billboard's own Sunday night after-party sponsored by Starbucks.
Brian Niccol, chief marketing officer of Taco Bell, says the fast-feeder's first Lolla-adjacent event was an extension of the chain's Feed The Beat artist program, which is entering its seventh year this fall. "We want to be partnering with the people that are really shaping tomorrow's music or even the discussion around music," he says. "We want to make sure we inspire those opinions and discussions taking place to be in tune and nurture that spirit."