Playing their song

Consumer brands are turning to live music events to tap into a youthful customer base

The 75,000 people who headed to Candolim Beach in December were not there for the sand or surf. What had drawn them to Goa was Sunburn, the annual electronic dance music festival that has its roots in Goan trance. Seven stages and over 90 artistes kept the music going at the three-day party on the beach, with a line up that included Infected Mushroom and DJs Axwell and Funkagenda. But it was not fun in the sun for everybody at Sunburn.

There were entire teams of people hard at work and, no, we are not talking of the event organisers. Brands such as Absolut, Lenovo, Gitanjali, Canon and Lakmé were busy working the crowds to connect with potential and existing customers. While Lakmé found the perfect opportunity to test its new range of sun protection products, Canon India was persuading revellers to shoot pictures with its cameras to extend the brand’s ‘cherish every moment’ positioning. Lenovo invited amateur DJs to use its software to submit song entries online. The winning entry got a chance to perform at Sunburn and in the subsequent ‘hangover’ tours.

It is not only Sunburn. As demand for live, youth-oriented music festivals picks up across India, they are increasingly showing up on the radars of consumer brands and advertisers. Shailendra Singh, joint MD of event management firm Percept, which organises the Sunburn Festival, explains the reason behind the popularity of such gigs. “Anyone can go to the music store, buy the latest album and listen to it. Events like Sunburn are places to experience the music, and the creative energy that it inspires,” he says. 

Of course, they are nowhere close to the scale and popularity of a Glastonbury or the Lollapalooza, but events like the Storm Festival featuring alternative music at Coorg, rock and trance music festival Escape by the Lake at Naukuchiatal near Nainital, and the NH7 Weekender at Pune are quickly building a local fan following. Sunburn’s 75,000 aside, over 25,000 people attended the second round of the Bacardi NH7 festival, in 2011, while nearly 13,000 people have ‘liked’ the Storm Festival 2012 page on Facebook, even before the event happens (scheduled for January 20 and 21, 2012). Which explains why brand managers are in a great rush to book their places at these events. 

While Bacardi is the title sponsor of the NH7 festival, Mahindra & Mahindra attaches its prefix to the Mumbai Blues festival, and Red Bull has the eponymous Red Bull Bedroom Jam for amateur bands. Meanwhile, Karnataka Tourism, Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Peter England and Vladivar vodka have hitched their wagons to the two-day musical camp-out at Coorg. “Music is the easiest way to connect to the youth today. It reflects their moods, attitude and lifestyle.

Any company that manages to establish a musical connect automatically becomes cool and hip,” says Pankaj Raj Kumar, national head of Jagran Solutions, a below-the-line branding firm that counts brands like Nokia, Wrigley’s and Bacardi among its clients. Such events also provide the perfect opportunity to connect with the right kind of customers. More than half of India’s population is under 25 and youth music events are typically attended by urban elite in the 18-35 age group — and that’s the holy grail for most consumer brands in the country. 

“Today’s youth ask for the latest gadgets, are willing to pay more for extra features and are willing to indulge and take time out for their passions,” says Canon India senior vice president Alok Bhardwaj. Music-related events, Canon has found, help the company create a youth-oriented image — and that has to be good for sales. Lenovo thinks similarly. “Our association with Sunburn will help us establish a strong connect with the youth, our core target audience,” says Shailendra Katyal, the company’s marketing director. 

The social network

Live events help companies break through the brand clutter and, thanks to the popularity of social networking sites, it has become easier for event organisers and people who want to participate in such activities to come together more easily. For instance, Bacardi India has a “Like it Live” page on Facebook that allows people to vote for the artist they would like to see performing in person. Based on the number of votes, in December, it brought Romanian singer-songwriter Alexandra Stan to perform at Mumbai’s Hard Rock Café (HRC), to a packed audience. 

Nokia also turned to social networks when it decided to create flash mobs to promote its latest phone, Lumia. Random people were brought together at malls across Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore to dance on a pre-decided song. “Increasingly, road shows or having a van stand outside a college is not enough. This is where the flash mob idea came in. It is getting us great visibility, and online mentions have exploded. We want to be a cool, hip, young brand and the idea of flash mobs have clearly worked,” says Viral Oza, marketing director at Nokia.

Connecting with potential customers is just half the story. More importantly, live events engage the customer and gets them personally involved in the brand — and that helps in creating stickiness. “Mass media advertising tends to be ‘one-way’ communication, while the sponsorship of an event allows dialogue, experience and, finally, trial,” says Kiran Khalap, founder of brand consultancy Chlorophyll. He points out that these engagements lead to creation of brand ambassadors and tribes who create a larger family of brand lovers through ‘word of mouth’. “This is possible only when a brand gets involved in an event as opposed to just using advertising,” adds Khalap. 

That is exactly what Pepsi did at the NH7 Weekender, when it sponsored a new stage called Pepsi Dub Station that was dedicated to sounds like dubstep dance, drum and bass and reggae, which are considered the future of dance music internationally. It was a targeted association and fit perfectly with Pepsi’s youth-oriented brand positioning. Points out Sandeep Singh Arora, executive vice-president, marketing (cola), PepsiCo India, “This association reflects our strategy of creating new trends, reflecting youth passions and giving voice to the youth’s point of view.”

The music’s just started

Globally, live music festivals are considered to be a multi-billion dollar industry. Events like the Coachella Valley music and art festival in Southern California (which has unannounced performances from top hip-hop artists like Kanye West), Roskilde in Denmark, Sound Wave in Perth and T in the Park in Scotland are some of the oldest and biggest music festivals, which see staggering crowds of up to a quarter of a million. 

Not surprisingly, they invite massive corporate interest. At Roskilde 2011, for instance, brands like Tuborg, Bosch, Lays, Microsoft, Converse, Diesel, Nikon and Tetrapak were associated with the event. Others like Coachella and T in the Park have Heineken beer, H&M, Play Station, Red Bull and BBC regularly associating with them. 

Live music events in India have a long way to go. They have not raised that level of interest — yet. But Deepinder Goyal, founder CEO of, an online event information, restaurant guide and ticketing platform, says there is a rising demand for such events. “More than 2 million people visit our event information pages every month and the majority is looking out for such events,” he says. As it turns out, companies, too, are seeking similar opportunities.