3 Lessons from Brand Activations at Coachella

...and how you can be early to the next main-stage event

In the rise of social media and influencer marketing, Coachella has made its name as the “Super Bowl” of marketing activations targeted at millennials. Each year, we see brands invest more into the annual weekends to establish their brand as synonymous with the cool and trendsetting nature of Coachella. Coachella 2017’s sponsor list consists of 12 brands including Heineken, Sephora, HP, and American Express, who hope to cultivate brand love amongst an audience that consists of tastemakers with high spending power. In addition to the official partners, many brands are popping up with activations around the festival to create more intimate settings for their tastemakers. Brands like Revolve, H&M, Maybelline, Victoria’s Secret, Lucky, Playboy, and more are jumping on the activation bandwagon to not only compete with the festival, but with each other.

The days of your activation being only a brunch are over. Brands are diving in with both feet: Revolve hosted its own music festival on a luxurious estate during Coachella. With the abundance of cash spent on supplying Coachella goers and non-goers free drinks and a place to hang out, how do you track ROI?

There’s been a wave of new festivals providing brands new opportunities for marketing, but we know only the memorable experiences can last. How can a brand quantify “memorable”?

Instagram data is the rockstar here. With experiential marketing evolving to have a digital keystone, Instagram is the telescope of determining which brands are buzzing. As brands continue ramping up their Coachella activations, what other tent-pole events can brands explore with less competition? Similar to what we saw at SXSW this year, activations of this scale might not be sustainable.

Event Hashtags that Drive Volume

Unlike the ephemeral nature of Snapchat, Instagram posts stick around, becoming a part of a collection of memories you can always return to.

Looking at the activations outside of Coachella, we saw that Revolve was incredibly successful at inducing social sharing at their festival. Although the event was closed off to the public, the careful selection of influencers caused each post tagged #RevolveFestival have an average of 9,000 likes — wow. Our runner-up in volume of posts was Victoria’s Secret’s activation, which had almost 1,000 posts using their hashtag.

Let’s drill into what Victoria’s Secret and Revolve did to stand out…

How Revolve and Victoria’s Secret Stand Out

By isolating posts only using #REVOLVEFestival or #HotelREVOLVE, we filtered to content that used #ad in addition.

Revolve’s event had overall 23 posts that were marked as ads, focused on partnerships with influencers like Claudia Sulewski (@claudiasulewski), Jasmine Sanders (@golden_barbie), and Billboard (@Billboard).

When we looked at Victoria’s Secret, we couldn’t spot one ad that was used in collaboration with Victoria’s Secret.

Lesson: Although Revolve had to spend additional cash to get the word out through influencers, they were able to create more awareness of their event and increase the hype.

One activation that experienced high reach was Bumble’s Winter Bumbleland activation. What Bumble did differently was going full force on the influencer partnership, by requesting posts from Kendall Jenner, Kylie Jenner, and Hailey Baldwin.

With an audience that is typically not a stranger to the camera, it’s important to hone in on opportunities for their social media content. One thing that was a hit at Winter Bumbleland was the opportunity to stand next to some bee wings. This allows the audience to interact with the decor and share an Instagram-worthy photo, giving their outfit a chance to shine. The reminder of the hashtag to the right also doesn’t hurt.

Another great idea to encourage social sharing was at Juicy Couture’s activation. They had a vintage convertible to take an iconic image with. This definitely took photo-booth props to another level.

 

As a brand, it’s advised to determine how much buzz you need. Is it more important for you to make sure your influencers are spreading the word about your activation or is it more important to allocate that budget towards the experience, finding more opportunities to make it memorable? If you have a smaller budget, there’s still an opportunity to achieve virality without spending a pretty penny. Consider your audience and what excites them. If they’re snap-happy to begin with, find creative ways to induce social sharing.

Always remember to consider your audience and what excites them.

 

At Spredfast’s Social Suite activation, we created dramatic Milkshakes that were #instagood. It was a low-cost and effective way to maximize reach and social sharing. We saw a 57% growth in Instagram shares because of them and 7x more followers that weekend year-over-year.

(Stop shaking your head, Dr. L — the cavity was worth it.)

#Free Stuff

At Lucky’s LuckyxMusic event, they had a custom embroidery activation for bandanas. Understanding how dusty Coachella can be, it’s a great idea to equip your attendees with swag that will most definitely be used and is unique memorabilia.

Like Lucky did, give your audience free stuff they’ll actually use. Think past the typical swag handed out at festivals, because who really needs another T-shirt? Focus on making it memorable - surprise them, impress them, make them feel like their experience is brag-worthy.

Now back to the topic of competition. Here’s how crazy the Coachella bubble is, including sponsors.

Within Coachella, there is a massive skew of conversation due to Revolve. If you’re a smaller brand, this can be difficult to compete with on making your brand memorable with less budget.

How can brands connect with their audience at less-saturated events? Consider curating a list of influencers you find similar to your brand.

Once you have your list of influencers, create a leaderboard that will help you keep track of where they’re going.

As Instagram becomes a main-stage for events, you can rely on your influencers to share more on their adventures. In addition to Instagram, Snapchat stories are a great resource to stay up-to-date with this core audience. Make it a routine to check weekly what your influencers are up to and determine if there are any gems there.

Let SXSW be a lesson on what to expect with festivals like Coachella, where competitive landscapes challenge brands to go big or home. Even if you go big, there’s no clear way to track the impact it has on your business, without adding the importance of asking whether you’re making an experience memorable. Let social sharing of the audience you want to connect with help you piece the puzzle together.

 

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Ary Esfahani is a Digital Strategist at Spredfast. She is passionate about the evolving landscape of digital and writes to help marketers be ahead of that change.