Why are festivals a highly conducive environment for sparking positive psychological brand associations? We review the best brand activations and experiences from festivals this summer including Coachella, BST and Glastonbury

The festivalisation of events is on the rise. Why? Because of how festivals make us feel. Attending a music festival reaps many psychological and health benefits including reducing stress and improving human connections. It’s no surprise that brands are allocating more marketing budget to event sponsorship at festivals and that engagement is a primary marketing objective. Festivals are a highly conducive environment for sparking positive psychological brand associations, thanks to its atmosphere. In fact, some report that ‘the festival experience is becoming more about the atmosphere and less about the line-up’. Read on to learn about the balance of a well-tuned festival ecosystem, the psychological effects of festivals and to see which brands are activating their audiences through immersive experiences and activations at festivals around the world.

The Psychology of Festivals

Balance is the key to a festival’s brand sponsorship ecosystem. A whole host of factors need to be considered when partnering brands to festivals, namely whether there is synergy between them and if they align to the overarching festival’s values, mission and vibe. What’s more is whether brands complement one another – each sponsor should play a part in satisfying the different needs of a buzzing crowd of festival-goers. Together the festival sponsors should harmonise and add value to the whole festival experience. How? By deeply understanding the target audience and gaining insight into how festivals affect the psyche.

According to research on music festival motivators, the most common reasons to attend are event novelty, escapism, and opportunities for socialisation. With removed social pressures and the weight of responsibility lifted from festival goer’s shoulders, festivals are a refreshing distraction from day-to-day life. Further, it’s well known that music has an incredible effect on the brain, releasing a hit of dopamine as a biological response.

Marcel Zentner (2017) studied the emotions caused by music, reverse engineering his approach to emotional identification. The research identified forty emotions in total, leading to nine categories: wonder, nostalgia, tenderness, transcendence, peacefulness, energy, joyful activation, tension, and sadness. Concentrated further, these emotions fit into three categories: sublimity, vitality, and unease. Brand experiences and activations work best when they tap into the mindset of their target audience and consider how they want them to feel, think and act. What feelings were evoked at this year’s festival brand experiences and activations?

Festival Brand Experiences and Activations

Aside from attracting global audiences to see the world’s most coveted show-stopping acts, British Summer Time, Coachella and Glastonbury offer serious brand sponsorship investment opportunities. Increasingly brands are favouring experiential marketing strategies to engage, entertain and activate customers on a more personal level. Here we explore and emotionally rate experiences designed for their exclusivity, personalisation and meaning using Zentner’s approach.


The Coachella Valley Festival is one of the most sought-after festivals in the world. Known to attract celebrities, influencers and brands from the Forbes Fortune 500 list, Coachella creates the optimum setting for exclusive experiences.

This year saw innovations across fin-tech, FMCG, and tech as brands looked for new ways to get in front of their target audience and captivate their attention.

Calvin Klein’s festival activation was all about exclusivity and inspiration. A 1970s-style house named #MYCALVINS HOUSE was designed to physically extend the brand’s presence and personality. An opulent branded bathroom (complete with giant bathtub and bubbles), CK decked walk-in closet and bedroom with mirrored ceiling all made for a shareable social media-worthy experience. The activation was heightened more with the appearance of Billie Eilish and the opportunity to take away limited custom clothing.

EMOTIONAL VERDICT? Energy, joyful activation

Google, too, developed their multisensory Brighter in the Dark experience around exclusivity. Tech met music as Google teamed up with Childish Gambino to promote the Pixel 3 mobile in a spectacular showcase. Playing on the senses of sight and sound, attendees embarked on an immersive journey to ‘see in the dark’. The installation put the Pixel 3’s Night Sight Features to the test, highlighting its technological abilities in dark settings. Fans were also offered an exclusive preview of the artist’s AR app whilst at the experience – an additional enticement to excite revellers.

EMOTIONAL VERDICT? Wonder, transcendence, energy


British Summer Time, 5 – 14 July, welcomed a complementary group of brand partners to their festival including drink giants Heineken, Coca Cola and Bacardi but it was Tinder’s Festival Mode activation that got people talking. Ahead of BST Tinder launched a unique in-app user experience where users could add a badge to their profile highlighting which festival(s) they planned to attend. This stimulated new conversations and helped to bridge online and live connections. Tinder’s pop up featured the well-known flame along with a photo competition area and free giveaways including a set of festival tickets. The creative design was fitting to the spirit of BST and promoted Tinder’s new capabilities and fun brand personality!

EMOTIONAL VERDICT? Energy, joyful activation

Creating personal experiences for the individual in the masses can be challenging. Embracing individual differences is key – sensorial experiences that play on taste and smell are extremely effective. Known as olfactory experiences, the nose guides the personalisation helping to develop a unique, personalised experience. As taste and smell are strongly linked, brands could develop a bespoke cocktail, a summer festival scent or even imbue the air at your brand activation – allowing your brand to be tasted and smelt!

Neurobiologists at the University of Toronto found that “there is a strong connection between memory and olfaction — the process of smelling and recognizing odors — owing to their common evolutionary history. Information about space and time integrate within a region of the brain important for the sense of smell — yet poorly understood — known as the anterior olfactory nucleus (AON).

“When these elements combine, a what-when-where memory is formed”.

Designing a brand experience centred around the senses will forge a powerful brand association and sensory-rich memory. Our sense of smell is the most powerful trigger to memories – that coupled with taste and a soundtrack is set for an impactful brand experience.

Meaningful Experiences

The Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts attracted 200,000 revelers in June and is set to grow again in 2020 with a further 7,000 tickets approved by the local council. The biggest festival of the world instills a real sense of community where ‘people come together for people and planet’. Glastonbury is dedicated to the environment and giving back to worthy causes – it’s a festival with meaning and conscience: Love the Farm, Leave No Trace. Some of the causes they support include WaterAid, Oxfam, and Greenpeace. What sets Glastonbury apart from other festivals is its non-commercial approach to sponsorship. Partners are carefully chosen for the value they bring to attendees and the overall experience. Here are a few of the chosen brands and charities that showcased at Glastonbury…

Greenpeace designed a seriously impressive sculptural experience called BEAM, drawing inspiration from the black bee colonies on Worthy Farm. The UK artist Wolfgang Buttress worked together with Greenpeace to create an experience like no other. Accelerometers (vibration sensors to you and me!) measured bee activity and transmitted these live signals to the installation through sound and light. The bee movements were transmitted and translated in real-time for festival-goers to experience.

EMOTIONAL VERDICT? Wonder, transcendence, peacefulness, energy, joyful activation

EE was the official communications and technology sponsor enabling festival-goers to stay connected. The tech giant established its presence with the emergence of 5G, a festival mobile app, and a recharge tent. EE’s approach was inclusive to everyone – they opened their charging stations to anyone on any service, and removed dead battery anxieties! This approach to sponsorship focused on convenience and what attendees needed and wanted in the moment. Rather than a ‘hard sell’ EE played the technological hero that attendees could trust to keep them in touch with friends and remind them about upcoming act times.

EMOTIONAL VERDICT? Energy, tension (release)

David Ogilvy famously said, ‘The trouble with market research is that people don’t know what they feel, they don’t say what they think, and they don’t do what they say’.

People are unpredictable and traditional event formats no longer work, which is why festivals make for an interesting alternative format. The nature of a festival thrives on disruption, novelty, and fun. And as a result, brand experiences, too, thrive in festival environments. Human unpredictability plays to a brand’s strength at a festival because we behave differently – we’re out of our normal context, relaxed and open to experiencing a broader emotional range. Adding sensorial elements to the mix unlocks a deep emotional bandwidth and creates a rich memory, spiking audience engagement, increasing brand loyalty and raising brand awareness.

We’ve scratched the surface on some of the psychological effects of festivals and can identify with Rory Sutherland when he says, ‘Human behaviour is an enigma’.

It doesn’t have to be though! Whether you want to create an exclusive activation, a personalised experience, or a meaningful installation – we’re ready to help you leverage your brand and activate your audiences. Ready to crack the code?