Glastonbury Festival: Bands Before Brands?
It’s that time of year again when 135,000 ticket holders stomp their muddy wellies upon Worthy Farm and pray for five days that it won’t rain. Glastonbury Festival, the largest greenfield festival in the world, has been running for 46 years and appears to show no signs of slowing down.

With the world’s best music artists in attendance (depending on your view of Kanye West) a guest-list of celebs which rivals a red carpet event, and a 900-acre site packed with people from all walks of life, there’s an obvious commercial opportunity for brands. Yet, Michael Eavis does a great job of avoiding the inevitable cattle market brand takeover, with the reality being that Glastonbury is very much a ‘rightsholder’ bucking the trend when it comes to brand involvement. So the question is, how does he do it?

FORCE FOR CHANGE

Since day dot (the ’70s), Glastonbury Festival has always attributed itself to being a positive force for change. With the likes of Water Aid, Greenpeace and Oxfam as partners, the underlining message of the festival is to protect the environment, often in alternative ways. This year will be another first for Greenpeace, with a virtual reality dome where you can experience David Attenborough’s spectacular visit to the Great Barrier Reef, to highlight how it’s under threat through climate change.

Although these ‘showpiece’ elements from such ‘not for profits’ definitely resonate with the festival’s values at large, if you look further into the other brands involved with the festival, they may have more in common with each other than you might think.

Having attended Glastonbury for the past three years, it’s only now when I sit and think about it, that a few brands stand out. Upon arrival, if you can still manage to muster a smile having trekked miles with your temporary home on your back, there are people offering you a mapped guide to the festival, in a Yeo Valley canvas bag. That canvas bag becomes a part of your body, and as a result, free marketing for Yeo Valley, as you march from field to field carrying around your tinnies.

This is  a great example of subtle yet practical branding, with no sign of yogurts or dairy products being pushed in ‘Yeo’ face! Notably, Yeo Valley are actually a local brand (being from Somerset), which demonstrates another element of Glastonbury’s ethos – to support local businesses.

CHAMPION THE LOCALS

I asked my fellow festival-goer housemate what brands have stood out to her, if any, when she’s been at Glastonbury. Her immediate reaction was Thatchers Cider, which probably says more about her own festival experience, but a great example nonetheless. Thatchers recently agreed a deal which extends their prominence as the ‘Official Cider of Glastonbury Festival’ for the next five years.

Again, Glastonbury succeeds in associating itself with a local, family-run business, supporting them in becoming accessible to thousands of international festival junkies. Yet, I can’t help but wonder – especially at a festival when food and drink is permitted from outside festival boundaries – whether Thatchers need to offer something more… An experience, perhaps, that says a little more about them to potential customers than just pitching up a series of bars across the grounds.

CREATE AN UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCE

One brand defiant in demonstrating their prominence at the festival is mobile network EE, who are truly living up to their name of ‘Everything Everywhere’. EE became Glastonbury’s Official Technology partner in 2014, and have certainly made themselves a brand that’s in demand by adding to the experience of festival goers.

Initially introducing the ‘recharge bar’, they gave revelers, and more so, millennials, the chance to become the envy of their friends by having instant access to social media throughout the festival with WiFi hotspots available across the site.

This, in turn, is of huge benefit to the festival itself, with Glastonbury being the talk of the town (or more so the country) across social media channels, as well as being a great success for EE. In fact, in their first year of sponsorship, they signed up nearly 900,000 users to the network between January and March, well on their way to the target of six million 4G customers by the end of the year.

This year, EE have taken it one step further by creating the ‘EE Festival Essentials Pack’, which has the addition of a waterproof phone case and a poncho, showing that not only do they know how to please potential customers, but also that they understand the British summertime! Although they’re somewhat of an outsider when it comes to fitting with the festival’s core values, they’re making their presence at the festival invaluable. By engaging with the festival audience, and allowing seamless social media sharing for customers they’re offering the advantage of free-marketing for Mr Eavis in the process.

IT’S NOT ALL FLOWER CROWNS & DANCING

Although Glastonbury Festival has appeared to strike a positive balance between brand and consumers, it doesn’t always work out for everyone. In 2008, Reading and Leeds called time on their partnership with Carling, who had a 10-year sponsorship with the rock festival series, after failing to connect suitably with audiences.

Carling took over in 1998, and rebranded the two festivals as the ‘Carling Weekend’ – although perhaps the fact that this didn’t catch on may have been a tell-tale sign of what was to come. The title sponsorship was fairly limited in what it brought to the party – merely making Carling available at festival sites wasn’t quit connecting suitably with consumers.

INFLUENCE FROM THE INSIDE, OUT

This lends itself nicely to the last and final way, I believe, that brands who aren’t directly sponsors of the festival are able to succeed. It’s no secret that celebrities hold the key to giving your brand a boost, and with greater access to social media allowing fast and efficient product promotion, it’s a winning formula. Over recent years, much like its successful counterparts such as Coachella and Burning Man, Glastonbury Festival has become a celebrity hot spot, that plays host to a pool of influencer consumers, delivering brand opportunities in abundance.

The first brand success of its kind came in the form of British supermodel Kate Moss, who famously wore Hunter wellies to Glastonbury Festival in 2005 , which, much to the delight of Hunter, practically rescued the company from imminent administration. It is unreported as to whether this was merely a stroke of luck or genius, but nonetheless the trend has been picked up across the years from celebs attending the festival, with consumers naturally assigning Hunter to the festival itself.

Despite the potential celebrity endorsement takeover within Glastonbury Festival, this type of marketing has huge appeal for millennials due to their unbounded enthusiasm for Instagram trend-spotting and the like. This does its job of ticking the box of ‘creating a better brand experience’ for those in attendance. It is something which brands wishing to associate themselves with Glastonbury should have at the forefront of their minds, for not only the punters, but for the artists attending too.

What we’ve seen is that brands can succeed in adding value to the festival experience – which is, after all, the sign of great sponsorship in action. It’s clear that the sponsors that share Glastonbury’s ‘Love Worthy Farm, Leave No Trace’ ethos resonate well with their audience, creating a positive relationship between the festival, brand and potential customers.

The challenge for Glastonbury Festival for the future is to retain the balance of independence and positive brand involvement without getting stuck in the mud.