12 Festival Activations to Make Your Next Event Amazing
Before you dive in, if you are interested in festival sponsorship, check out these titles in our “sponsorship for festivals” series:
How to Plan a Festival the Complete Guide to Starting Growing and Perfecting Your Festival
What Activities to Have at Your Festival
How to Promote a Festival: Event Branding, Marketing, and Social Media
Sponsorship for Festivals: What You Need to Know for Your Event to Be a Hit
What Companies That Sponsor Festivals Are Looking for in a Partnership
Do you have a festival coming up that you want to exceed expectations? Perhaps yours is an event of a different nature. Either way, activations are a must. What are some great activation ideas to emulate?
Here are 12 festival activations so your next event shines:
- Mini lounge
- Video technology
- Bull riding
- Henna tattoos
- Hydration station
- Portrait drawing
- Shower station
- Pop-up shops
- VIP areas
In this full guide to activation events, I’ll first define activations so you understand what I’m talking about when I refer to them. Then I’ll share some pointers for coming up with your own activations and present the best brand activations at music festivals and other events.
Let’s get started!
Activations for Festivals and Events Defined
Okay, so what in the world does an activation mean anyway?
Activations are a term that you hear come up in the sponsorship and marketing worlds, and since sponsorships, marketing, and festivals often overlap, it makes sense for the term to bleed over.
An activation is a sponsored or promoted experiential marketing event, interaction, or campaign.
Primarily, the goal of activation is to entertain or fulfill another need of an audience. An activation, when done right, can also introduce a new brand, build brand awareness, increase conversions, and even boost sales.
Outside of your experience hosting a festival, think for a moment about the times you’ve attended a festival.
Now think about everything else that was at the event besides the music or the food and drink. You saw booths from companies giving out free samples, areas where you could play a game or compete in a contest, and similar activities like that, right?
Those are all activations!
How to Come up with Cool Activation Ideas
Now it’s time to come up with activations that will resonate with your festival audience. How do you do that? Here are my top tips.
Know Your Audience
This one might seem like a bit of a no-brainer, but I had to include it, nonetheless.
You cannot possibly entertain or fulfill audience needs without understanding who your audience is.
If you read my ultimate guide to festivals, I recommended surveying your audience. You can also use past event data to determine more metrics on your audience.
What if you don’t have past event data? Then you can determine who your target audience is and then come up with your activations based on what you predict their needs are.
The best activations aren’t only cool. They do something for your audience. If you keep that in mind, then your festival’s events will shine.
Set a Budget
Yeah, I know, it’s uncool to talk about budgets, but we have to. If you go into the activation phase without a budget, you can easily drop a million dollars on experiential marketing.
You don’t want to put your festival in the red just to get a headline on the Internet or become a temporarily trending hashtag.
The thing about activations is that they don’t have to cost a fortune. This is one of those areas where low cost is okay, especially if your audience’s needs aren’t very expensive.
If festivalgoers were thirsty, would you hand out bottles of water or spend a ton of money on an overhead sprinkler system?
One directly solves the needs of your audience while the other tries to be flashy about it but doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Simple and cheap are okay if they get the job done!
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
So many first-time festival and event hosts think that their activations have to be completely brand-new and unique.
You can make yourself crazy trying to come up with something that no one has ever thought of before.
In today’s day and age, when so much has already been done, you might feel like there is no new ground left to tread.
I’m not saying there isn’t, but I am saying that you don’t have to give yourself a pounding headache trying to figure out where you can establish the new frontier.
What I recommend instead is upgrading already existing activations.
Think of five of your favorite activations from the festivals and events you’ve attended in the last year.
What can you do to make them even better? I’m sure you can think of something, right? That’s a whole heck of a lot easier to do than it is to come up with a completely original idea.
12 Activations for Events and Festivals
If you’re still scratching your head because you’re not sure where to start with festival brand activations, I think this list ought to help.
Per the intro, here are 12 of my most recommended activations for festivals and events.
Between 2016 and 2018, you couldn’t go to Coachella without seeing the Heineken House. This was Heineken’s–a long-time sponsor of Coachella–personal activation with house party vibes.
People could of course drink Heineken beer and dance on a kinetic floor, the energy from which powered the activation.
Plus, there were plenty of storytelling elements to the activation, such as an area showcasing the history of the Heineken beer brand.
Those in the Heineken House could also charge their phones for free.
Here’s a photo of the Heineken House so you can get a feel for what I’m talking about.
With so many amenities that festivalgoers are looking for present in the Heineken House, they’d only want to leave when the time came to check out the music!
Video technology has come such a long way, so you might as well use it to the fullest when planning activations for your festival.
One of my favorite activations that uses video technology came from the television network USA.
To promote its show Graceland, USA Network had a pop-up location in bustlin’ downtown Austin.
Those who participated in the activation could play with a paint-brush roller and “paint” over walls–digitally, of course–to project images from Graceland around the area.
You can see a photo of what the activation looked like here.
What a cool way to spread the word about a brand and get locals involved too!
What better competitive activation to have at a country music event than bull riding?
The Boots and Heart Music Festival and its sponsor, Durango Boots, had a bull riding competition at the event. Festivalgoers could test their mettle against El Diablo, a buck wild mechanical bull.
It sure looked like fun to me!
The thing about t-shirts as a means of brand promotion is people can always take them off.
Why not give festivalgoers a more permanent (but not totally permanent, of course) reminder of a brand such as with henna tattoos?
I’m not saying to necessarily brand a company name or logo right on someone’s skin but create designs that vibe with the event.
If yours is a music festival with a boho or alternative vibe, then an idea like this is one to add to your list.
Festivalgoers are always going to work up a mighty thirst during music fests and other such events.
That’s doubly true if it’s an outdoor event during the summer or if everyone is packed in close together dancing and sweating.
Hydration stations are naturally going to attract a lot of attention.
One of the best examples of this activation is from Camelbak, which you can check out here. Camelbak produces hydration packs, tumblers, and water bottles, so the company already has a relationship with water.
Of course, any brand that’s sponsoring your festival can be a big hit with a hydration station, but you win brownie points if the brand is already somewhat associated with water.
Rather than send them home with a festival t-shirt, give festivalgoers a real souvenir in the form of a hand-drawn portrait created by an artist.
That’s what shoe brand Vans once did for one of its festival activations.
The brand’s tagline, which is “Off the Wall,” was taken quite literally when Vans set up a wall to hang portraits of lucky festivalgoers.
Here is what the setup looked like.
If yours is a huge festival, then maybe this isn’t the best activation unless you have a team of artists on hand. After all, the line of festivalgoers to get their portraits drawn could easily exceed the capacity of the activation!
It’s day two of a weekend-long festival and today is going to be even hotter than yesterday. While it’s still important for festivalgoers to be hydrated, you can always take it a step further than that.
Glaceau, the makers of Vitamin Water, set up what they called a Human Car Wash at Canada’s WayHome Music Festival one year. And yes, before you ask, it can indeed get hot in Canada (I should know. I’m from there!).
Of course, people flocked to the Human Car Wash. Glaceau required that attendees use RFID wristbands to gain entry so they could track the success of their activation.
These days, fireworks can be shaped like anything and everything. Thus, a great way to entertain crowds and spread brand awareness is through a sponsored fireworks display. It’s a memorable capper after an evening of entertainment!
The summertime may be the perfect season for festivals, but the heat can get old fast. As I’m sure I’ve made clear by this point, any activation that gives people a chance to get a reprieve from the heat will probably do quite well.
Inside a makeshift tent, you can do screenings. That was a feature of the Adult Swim tent at Bonnaroo one year.
The giant tent was shaped like the character Meatwad from the hit Adult Swim show Aqua Teen Hunger Force. If you know the character, even in passing, you would see the huge tent and instantly smile.
Inside, viewers could check out Adult Swim content being screened as well as celestial displays akin to what you’d see in a planetarium.
How do you entice people to open their wallets at a festival? Present an exclusive opportunity such as a pop-up shop.
During a Coachella event, fashion publication Harper’s Bazaar erected its Shop Bazaar pop-up boutique for those who wanted to get Coachella-ready before heading into the event for a day of live music and entertainment.
How do you make a contest into an experimental marketing opportunity?
That’s easy! You do something like what Toyota did as a sponsor of Lollapalooza one year.
Toyota set up its own Toyota Prius Family Playground to promote its latest vehicle at the time. The Toyota Prius Family Playground had plenty of games and contests that festivalgoers could participate in.
One was a giant hamster wheel, which you can see here, that festivalgoers had to run on. The point was to create enough of a charge that you won a prize.
Another great feature of the Toyota Prius Family Playground was a phone charging station. The charging station was a car with a giant plug glued to the top. Up to five people could hop on in and charge up their phones.
Exclusive experiences, while they cater to only the needs of some, are becoming more common at festivals and events of all kinds.
Those with special access get treated like the very special guests they are. They might be able to relax in a lounge such as this one that PlayStation hosted during one Lollapalooza, where they can kick back and enjoy the ambiance.
What better way to enjoy a festival than with a special retreat like this? Unlike the rest of the festival, you can be sure a VIP area isn’t crowded, as only a select few are allowed in.
Activations are a must for any festival or event. They elevate your festival beyond the music and entertainment, giving festivalgoers a chance to learn about new brands, interact and play, rest, relax, take great photos, and make incredible memories.
I hope you take some of these great activation ideas and use them or some variation for your festival!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Baylis is the President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective and a self-confessed sponsorship geek.
After several years as a sponsor (that’s right, the one investing the money!) Chris decided to cross over to the sponsorship sales side where he has personally closed tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Chris has been on the front lines of multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements and has built and coached teams to do the same.
Chris now spends his time working with clients to value their assets and build strategies that drive sales. An accomplished speaker and international consultant, Chris has helped his clients raise millions in sponsorship dollars.