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How to Sponsor a Music Festival

October 18, 2018



Last weekend, the summer festival season officially came to a close in Chicago, going out with a bang at the annual Riot Fest Music Festival. Over the course of 3 days, a flurry of bands took to 4 different stages in Chicago’s Douglas Park. And in-between sets from their favorite bands, fans had no shortage of activities to explore across the 100+ acre festival grounds, including a wide range of sponsorship activations.


From enhanced water, to alcohol, to Bluetooth speakers, Riot Fest had a wide range of sponsors on-site. Below is a recap of some of the most prominent sponsors to take part in this year’s festival, as well as our takeaways from their activations.



Deep Eddy Vodka


One of the most prominent sponsors of this year’s festival, Deep Eddy Vodka was admittedly a brand I had never heard of until this past weekend. However they are fully top of mind now after their stellar showing at the festival. One of the best activations I have seen in a long, long time, Deep Eddy was fully present throughout the weekend with a stellar collection of sponsorship assets.


The Good

  • Visibility Everywhere

    • Almost every section of the festival grounds had some sort of brand asset for Deep Eddy. By far the most prominent brand on-site.


  • Not Your Standard Signage

    • All across the festival, the Deep Eddy brand assets kept appearing. But it wasn’t just your standard signage. There were Deep Eddy tents keeping plenty of people cool in the shade. There was a classic Airstream Trailer turned into a Deep Eddy branded VIP bar. An Instagram-worthy Deep Eddy-branded Volkswagen bus. And of course your standard sponsor signage, but with the added touch of having music-themed taglines attached.


  • Relevant Product Integrations

    • An obvious integration for an alcohol brand, Deep Eddy was prominently featured at every single festival bar; and in creative ways too! Each bar had music-themed cocktails created exclusively for Riot Fest, each made with - you guessed it - Deep Eddy Vodka! It was a great, relevant way to get Deep Eddy’s product into the hands of thousands of guests.




The Bad

  • Brand Assets in Low-Traffic Areas

    • Though they had plenty of signage and other brand assets to go around, some of Deep Eddy’s placements were in low-value areas. The extremely cool retro Volkswagen bus below was tucked behind some trees in a low-trafficked section of the VIP zone. I imagine only a small percentage of guests ever even noticed this awesome brand asset. Would have loved to see this excellent piece moved to a more prominent area of the site.






The Verdict


Overall, Deep Eddy did a fantastic job in executing its sponsorship activation at Riot Fest. It was the perfect mixture of unique, relevant brand assets, product integration, and frequency throughout the weekend.




Vitamin Water


Another strong showing at Riot Fest, Vitamin Water had an endless stream of guests visiting their sponsorship activation. With it being unseasonably warm over the festival weekend, the ice-cold product samples were a huge, huge hit with the festival attendees.



The Good

  • Product Samples Done Right

    • Nothing says refreshing like an ice-cold water on a hot day. By icing down a seemingly endless supply of Vitamin Water, the brand was able to keep everyone happy and hydrated throughout the weekend. No doubt this supply of product in the hands of guests will keep Vitamin Water top-of-mind next time they’re shopping for a quick beverage.


  • New Product Introduction

    • While they were sure to include some of their classic flavors, Vitamin Water focused heavily on new flavor introduction within their product samples. Guests seem to genuinely enjoy the opportunity to try out these new flavors…something they most likely would not have done if they have to pay for the product.


  • Strong Social Media Integration

    • In addition to product samples, Vitamin Water had a branded photo booth that integrated directly with Instagram, allowing attendees to take and post images branded with Vitamin Water’s logo. This took the offline activation and brought it into the digital space, vastly increasing the reach and value of their activation.


  • Relevant Promotional Items

    • Users that stopped to take photos in the Vitamin Water booth were then able to select a Vitamin Water prize. Prize items included perfect festival swag: branded sunglasses, bandanas, and hats. Vitamin Water clearly followed the first rule of promotion items: give away something that people actually want and need!


The Bad


  • VIP Only

    • Vitamin Water was only visible within the VIP Zone. While I totally understand that this area has a higher concentration of the brand’s target market, it still would have been nice to see signage or some other branded elements dispersed throughout the rest of the festival.


  • Early Tear-Down

    • With over 8 hours left in the show on Sunday, Vitamin Water had already torn down its photo booth – which comprised over half its activation. While I understand that sometimes you want to get a jump on packing up your gear after a long, hot weekend in the sun, this was a missed opportunity to engage hundreds more guests in-person, and thousands more via the social share element built into this activation.


The Verdict


Overall, a very nice showing from Vitamin Water. With some tweaks they could become the brand to beat at next year’s festival.




Illinois Lottery


With a custom-built activation trailer, it was clear that Illinois Lottery is no stranger to event sponsorships. However even with its experience and custom activation zone, there were still some missed opportunities that we can all learn from.



The Good

  • Prime Location

    • Facing the main stage, and set between a bar and the restrooms, Illinois Lottery could not have been in a better spot. I would estimate that at least 90% of festival guests would have passed their activation at some point during the weekend.


  • No Tent Here…

    • Way cooler than your standard brand tent, Illinois Lottery had a custom activation trailer that expanded out into a multi-level “Lottery Zone”. It looked great, and featured tons of lottery branding to drive awareness.


  • Much Needed and Used Cocktail Tables

    • In front of their trailer, Illinois Lottery set up a collection of branded cocktail tables. With their spot in from of the main stage, fans could post up at one of these tables and have a perfect view of the show. I don’t think there was one point in the weekend where these tables weren’t being utilized. Excellent way to get folks hanging by your activation, providing Illinois Lottery reps with the chance to engage and converse.


The Bad

  • What Is It?

    • As mentioned, Illinois Lottery had a very cool custom trailer in place for their activation. The only problem? No one could really tell what it was for. From a distance, it looked like a bar, with a few couches, tables, TV’s, and a bar with 4 stools. However upon closer inspection there was no actual food or drinks being served. Instead, there were just some lottery ticket dispensers strewn about next to signs encouraging users to visit a website. So, do you get a free ticket if you sign up for something at this website? Do I have to listen to a pitch if I come sit down? Are you selling things? People had no clear indication as to what was happening in the lottery booth, and as such, most did not venture in further beyond the cocktail tables.


The Verdict


Though the structure itself was great, and Illinois Lottery did a nice job getting folks to dwell near their booth with the cocktail tables, they missed the opportunity to get more guests inside their activation by failing to indicate what the benefit was. Without broadcasting the value guests will receive by visiting your booth, they’re much less likely to stop by.




Strong Bow


Directly next to the Illinois Lottery tent, Strong Bow Cider also benefited from a prime location. They took advantage of this spot, building out a nice bar/lounge area directly facing the main stage. Guests could come in, enjoy a Strong Bow cider, and listen to some tunes while relaxing in the shade. A nice reprieve on a hot festival weekend.




The Good

  • Location

    • Once again, this was probably the most trafficked area of the festival, ensuring that almost everyone had a chance to see Strong Bow’s Activation


  • Attention to Detail

    • Strong Bows activation area was immaculate, complete with umbrellas, tables, chairs, tablecloths…even potted plants. They took a lot of time to make this area look like you were on the back patio of a fancy bar/restaurant.


The Bad


  • Lack of Branding

    • It may have been due to Strong Bow’s brand being less bold and more refined, but in the sea of guests with colorful mohawks and ponytails, the Strong Bow branding failed to pop. You could walk by their activation and completely miss the brand altogether if you weren’t looking for it.


  • Market Fit

    • Unless Strong Bow is planning a push into a new market, I feel that the audience fit was not right for this event. Visit Strong Bow’s website, and you see Pinterest and HGTV-ready glamour shots – not exactly the punk rock vibe of Riot Fest. If anything, I think this activation would have performed better in one of the VIP areas.


The Verdict


Though they did a great job in creating a very nice lounge, the lack of visibility and the poor market mix lead to a fairly lackluster activation. At any point in time you could see plenty of open seats and space within their tent, and lots of bored brand reps. Would highly suggest this activation at different events, just not Riot Fest.






The award for longest lines of the weekend goes to JBL’s on-site activation. But this had nothing to do with poor management or layout. It was because they did a great job generating excitement with their activation!




The Good

  • Pitch for Prizes

    • The crown jewel of the JBL activation tent was their dunk tank, where guests could each take turns throwing two baseballs at the targets. But instead of dunking some sort of heckler, they were trying to dunk various JBL Bluetooth speaks. If successful, they walked away with that speaker as a prize!




  • This game was genius for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, JBL was using this activation to promote their new waterproof speakers. What better way to promote these speakers and their resilience than to see them get dunked time and time again into a water tank, and watch them reemerge in perfect working conditions? Though guests thought they were just watching a fun game, they were really watching a product demo without realizing it!


  • In addition to the product demo, the fact that JBL was willing to give away such high-value prizes made their booth the talk of the festival. Everyone was willing to wait in line to give it a chance. And while the game wasn’t impossible, it was certainly difficult. Based on my several sessions of observing, I’d estimate that about 10% of folks walked away with a prize. Did this cost JBL some serious money to execute? Of course. But it also made them the most trafficked booth all weekend – by a long shot! They were packed with music fans from open to close all 3 days. I imagine that the volume of guests they got to reach more than made up for the costs associated with these prizes.    



The Bad

  • Location

    • Though it wasn’t horrible, the JBL Booth was not the best location. Jammed between various vendors, circus acts, and the restrooms, it was a chaotic area. So much so that I think folks were trying to avoid this part of the festival grounds, which means JBL may have missed out on some opportunities to engage more individuals.


The Verdict


Excellent sponsorship activation, plain and simple. JBL hit this one out of the park!



Lost Opportunities…


It turns out that one of the most popular areas of the festival was sponsor-free: the water station! This was packed all day long, as folks looked to fill up bottles and CamelBak’s to avoid paying for a $3 bottle of water at the bar.


Unfortunately, it seemed like this station was set up as an afterthought, as the lines were huge all weekend long. Riot Fest could have definitely done more to not only make this area more efficient, but actually profit from it too by incorporating a sponsor.




The photo below is from this year’s Lollapalooza Festival in Chicago. Instead of offering up some generic water filling stations, they got CamelBak on board as a sponsor, and allowed them to manage this area on site.  And because their brand was now attached, they were keen on making these stations as efficient as possible, with lines at a minimum all weekend long.





Riot Fest should definitely explore opportunities like this for 2018, as it would not only help them, but create an improved guest experience as well.








It was great to see so many brands take advantage of the passionate, growing audience of Riot Fest this year. As shown above, a lot of these brands maximized on the opportunity, building activations that took everything into consideration: the location, the music, the guests, the weather, and where their brand fits within all of this. However there were a few brands that missed the mark, which goes to show that even with huge activation budgets and teams, you can still under-perform.


Activating a sponsorship package is part science and part art, and whether it’s a local farmer’s market or a national music festival, you need to really think through how you can best integrate your brand into the festival, and bring true value to the guests that visit you.




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