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Brands Flock to Music Festivals as Fans Embrace Activations

Brands Flock to Music Festivals as Fans Embrace Activations

Sarah Steimer

Branca Bar

Brand activations at music festivals were once derided as the corporatization of an otherwise artistic event—there was no Dial soap pop-up at Woodstock. Nowadays, brands are ubiquitous at festivals and sometimes even welcomed by samplers looking to avoid higher-priced food vendors or the squinting masses seeking free branded pairs of sunglasses.

Sponsorship spending on music tours, festivals and venues totaled $1.47 billion in 2016, according to Eventbrite’s report, “The New Era of Concert & Music Festival Sponsorships.” The survey found that 82% of consumers who attend four or more music festivals a year embrace company and brand activations at these events. The most frequent festival attendees engaged with food or drink activations (70%), Wi-Fi access (61%), cell phone charging stations (46%), lounges or relaxation areas (45%) and photo booths (43%).


This year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, held July 19-21 in Chicago, welcomed 16 brand participants. These ranged from Bai ambassadors passing out free drinks, Acuvue’s mobile music video studio and the members-only Chase Sapphire Lounge. Marketing News spoke with Fernet-Branca CEO Steve Brecher about his brand’s pop-up Branca Bar at Pitchfork.

Why did Fernet-Branca choose Pitchfork as one of the locations for the pop-up Branca Bar?

Pitchfork has established itself for over a decade as a foundation piece in the festival circuit, sustaining a quality lineup and environment year after year, earning consumer trust and active excitement.

The attendees are a nice mix of existing fans and totally new consumers, giving us an opportunity both for recognition and discovery throughout the weekend.

Additionally, although Pitchfork is a national brand—both through the festival and media property—Pitchfork Music Festival still feels local to the town and neighborhoods of Chicago, which plays into the bigger picture idea that the Branca Bar is not a fleeting, weekend-long pop-up, but rather the continuation of a plan for Fernet-Branca to authentically engage with each city and bolster the strong existing local relationships.

What was unique about this pop-up experience?

The most unique part of the Branca Bar is the design-forward environment that invites consumers to enjoy the brand on their own terms. Rather than throwing together a Frankenstein activation or just trying to peddle products from the main festival bars, Fernet-Branca would rather design and build a truly beautiful pop-up bar that connects the consumer to the rich history of the brand.

The Branca Bar bartenders are encouraged to explain the complexity of the taste and share the Fratelli Branca family brand story, while Fernet-Branca brand ambassadors create a comfortable environment, never too pushy or tense.

The Branca Bar is not a fleeting, weekend-long pop-up, but rather the continuation of a plan for Fernet-Branca to authentically engage with each city and bolster the strong existing local relationships.

Steve Brecher, CEO of Fernet-Branca

What were some of the results of the pop-up at Pitchfork?

There were two ways a consumer could enjoy Fernet-Branca on-site. First, within the Branca Bar activation footprint, guests could sample a small-format cocktail, including the Branca Buck with Fernet-Branca and ginger beer, as well as a Carpano Bianco Vermouth Spritz. Second, full-sized versions of these cocktails were also available within the Branca Bar activation and at various bars throughout the festival footprint. (Editor’s note: Fernet-Branca says the activation earned 246,537 total impressions.)

Any other anecdotal takeaways?

Pitchfork was the most robust lifestyle and music festival on the Branca Bar tour schedule this year and provided a great roadmap for how to integrate and execute similar events in the future. Their extremely organized and professional approach to production left no questions to be asked, and their ability to maintain a familial vibe throughout the entire process, even through some tough on-site weather conditions, aligns directly with the Branca family mentality.

All and all, another great stop on the Branca Bar tour. With the combination of a beautiful brand activation, quality festival and event partners, insanely dedicated portfolio managers, targeted and engaged social media support and an amazing variety of press attention, the Branca Bar is definitely turning heads in each market while creating mass amounts of new Fernet-Branca fans and cementing love for the brand from its countless loyalists across the country.

Sarah Steimer is a writer, editor, podcast producer, and yoga teacher living in Chicago. She has written for Marketing News, Chicago magazine, Culture magazine, the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette, and other outlets.