6 Brand Activations That Were Actually Cool

Brand Activation is marketing speak for, well, exactly what it sounds like. It’s a tool or technique (combined with lots of company cash) used to increase the visibility of a brand. Companies do this through “experiential marketing techniques” or real life engagements with consumers.

They’ll get potential customers to try out their products, interact with brand reps, take photos, play games, go on rides, drink beers, and pop on virtual reality simulators. You name it, companies are doing it! Because they hope these experiences will positively shape the consumer’s image of their brand. Or they may be trying to boost a brand that’s lost its mojo.

And for young people, authenticity is the most important part of this whole ordeal. Companies have to come up with unique, creative, and fun ways to reach Millennials and younger generations. They wouldn’t want their brand activations to seem really forced, lame, or worst of all, fake.

And where better to set up a brand activation than a festival… where people are sure to have cash, free time, and maybe a buzz? Hey, it’s way better than being asked to sample grape juice in the grocery store on a Wednesday night…

Tons of brand activations are going down at festivals nowadays. While this might anger some of the purists who are all about the traditional “culture” of music festivals – you know, the carefree hippie vibes, because “it’s all about the music, bro” – well, that’s just too bad. It’s happening. (Plus, have you even seen Coachella? We are so far gone.)

Where there’s money to be spent and a captive audience of potential customers swarming, there will be brands. It’s just all about how they get your attention, and whether you’ll find them really annoying or really cool. Here are a few of our favorite, well done brand activations.

State Farm at Bonnaroo

Nah, insurance isn’t really that cool or hip. And young people probably aren’t thinking about it all that much, especially not at this Tennessee-based, camping-centric music festival. But State Farm set up shop at this unexpected venue last year and handed out forgotten and much-needed “roadside assistance” in the form of toiletry items from toothbrushes to shampoo. They used their #HereToHelp platform to spread the word about the State Farm brand.

They even constructed a “Here to Help” lounge with free wifi, storage lockers, and charging stations (because like, you don’t have outlets in your tent). And they offered actual roadside assistance for festival attendees’ vehicles. They really wanted to be there for all the people out there camping, ya know, “like a good neighbor” and all.

This is actually genius, because just imagine you’d camped in the heat and mud for three days in a row without a toothbrush or a fully charged cell phone. Then State Farm just unexpectedly appears like a life-saving mirage, equipped with these super practical goodies.

So just when you thought it couldn’t get cooler than Aaron Rodger’s Discount Double Check commercials, it’s nice to see a big corporation doing good things for people in a tangible way. State Farm really role-modeled that good samaritan behavior that they’re all about.

Budweiser at Stagecoach and SXSW

Domestic beer and country music go together like, well, only those two things can. In sharp contrast to Coachella happening just down the road from this country music festival in California, Budweiser emphasized “living life on your own terms.” (I can only imagine that means cowboy hats instead of flower crowns, right?) As an iconic American brand, they were hoping more festival-goers would pick Budweiser as their beer of choice.

To get attendees to interact with their brand, they built the Budweiser Country Club.
This was a three-story structure set up at Stagecoach (and three other country music festivals last summer) where fans could get better views of performances from its open-air layout. Inside there were 20-foot bars, draft beer towers, and souvenirs for purchase from local craftsmen. All of this emphasized their whole brand image being about the craftsmanship, detail, and care they put into brewing beer. The Country Club also had outdoor games for festivalgoers to play.

Because there’s nothing that people love more than getting their hands on a cold Budweiser and some horseshoes at the same time, right?

For a different sort of target market at South by Southwest, Budweiser set up their Beer Garage, a virtual reality experience for beer drinkers. SXSW festivalgoers could put on a VR headset and check out a 4-D Immersive Reality Budweiser Brewery Tour. It was actually multi-sensory so attendees could see, smell, touch, and at the end, taste how Budweiser is made. Yay, free samples!

Virgin Trains at Festival No. 6

An art and music festival in Wales that you may not have heard of, Festival No.6 provided Virgin Trains the perfect opportunity to promote its new routes. Virgin gave attendees a fun way to get to the festival – a sort of party on the rails. Back in 2015 several months before it even kicked into gear, Virgin Trains targeted those folks planning to use public transportation to get to the music festival. They offered them priority fares for the trips, a first for the industry.

And what’s even better than a cheap ride? Um, an exclusive train car with live entertainment, face-painting with tons of glitter, and a bar (free cocktails, yes please!). But they didn’t stop there. Once ticket-holders arrived at the festival, they got access to Virgin’s “Village Limits” area with a line-up of DJs performing on a floating dance floor, all on a lake in the middle of the woods.

It’s no surprise that this particular brand activation was a huge success. (Virgin Trains won “Best Brand Activation” at the UK Festival Awards in 2015.) Because who doesn’t love feeling exclusive while being covered in glitter?!

Jägermeister at Unearthed

This one is a lesson in knowing your audience. And for Jägermeister, that’s males between the ages of 24 and 35 because they no doubt love Jäger-bombs. Music festivals just seem to be a great place to market booze. Shocking, right?

In 2015, Jägermeister created a £1 million experiential masterpiece in the form of the Jägerhaus at Unearthed Festival. An atypical festival celebrating music and the “expansion of consciousness from the material to the ethereal” – whatever that means – this specialty spirit company chose an out of the ordinary scene to match the complex flavors of its product.

Another brand activation set in the wilderness of a major U.K. festival, the Jägerhaus aimed to bring friends together and maximize the time people spent “experiencing their brand” (um, does that just mean drinking?). Attendees were invited inside this “haus” which was made up of four rooms… with secret passageways and other hidden rooms to be discovered.

The Jägerhaus featured performances by on-the-brink bands and DJs, and it didn’t hurt that there was a bar inside serving all sorts of Jäger concoctions, though shockingly the Jäger-bomb was not one of them…

But wait, things got even more interactive. This is not a joke. The Entrance Tunnel of the Jägerhaus greeted guests with a mist of the 56 herbs and spices used to make Jägermeister. I don’t know if that’s creative or crazy or bold, but it’s definitely original. And smelly.

American Greetings at SXSW

Who doesn’t love a DIY arts and crafts project? Especially if you’ve been drinking…

While everybody else at South by Southwest was going all digital and virtual reality, this greeting card company decided to show young people why paper still matters. Their three-day promotion, smartly titled #analog, was meant to show attendees how the analog and digital worlds could complement one another.

Passersby could try their hands at all sorts of paper crafts and “paper engineering” like printmaking or pop-up card creation. A resident artist taught lettering techniques, and (this is really cool) festivalgoers could even get selfies stitched with thread by a fashion designer. Crowds painted in huge mural-like coloring books on the walls and created analog GIFs to then record and share on social media.

All of this was to remind people how much fun they could have with paper and their hands. And even though there was no mention of a paper airplane folding station, we dig it…

Toyota at Lollapalooza

Toyota really embraced social media in a big way to cut through the typical noise of a music festival. They were the first company ever to use a Snapchat geo-filters to grant entrance to an event. While branded filters are often the norm at large festivals like this, Toyota’s was a “golden ticket” for lucky Snapchatters. Those who unlocked the filter got to attend an exclusive pop-up concert by Leon Bridges and Outkast rapper Big Boi.

Toyota timed its filter with the 25th hour of the festival in order to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Lollapalooza. It appeared just as Radiohead was ending their set, so the seemingly impromptu performance was a special treat for those who snagged it – like an afterparty for festivalgoers that wanted a few extra moments of music.

They held the show at the Toyota Music Den where the company provided a fleet of vehicles (um, obviously of the Toyota variety) for safe rides home. That means Toyota thought ahead in a super practical way, providing rides for people that hadn’t planned on attending a surprise concert! So convenient. At the venue, there were also cars on display and interactive activities for guests, just to really remind them about the brand behind all of this awesomeness.