Special Report — Daniel Juillet, vice-president, CROP
Let’s say you wanted to spend every weekend attending a festival in Quebec. Well, guess what: you’d need five years or more to take them all in. In fact, Quebec has over 250 festivals (and even more according to certain sources). Why so many? Why do Quebecers flock to them? And what opportunities does this create for brands?
Yes, the Quebec joie de vivre is often served up as an explanation for the festival frenzy. We’re pleasure seekers. We like to party. We like to laugh, sing and dance. But that’s not the whole story. As part of CROP’s Panorama/3SC research program, we looked into the personal values of participants at some of Quebec’s biggest festivals and discovered that Quebecers’ legendary hedonism isn’t the only thing drawing them to festivals. Going to a festival also fulfills a need to be part of a collective, to share experiences with the people around you. In Europe people take to the streets. They fill up the coffee shops. In Quebec we go to festivals.
We’re driven by a natural desire to communicate, to be in contact with others, to be immersed in a crowd. We take pleasure being in the midst of several hundreds of thousands of people in a—the word couldn’t be more apt—festive environment. Just think of the huge concerts on the Plains of Abraham during the Quebec City Summer Festival or how Montreal’s Place des Festivals fills up during the Jazz Fest.
Festivalgoers also share an open mind. By its very nature, a festival is an invitation to discover new worlds, to open our hearts and minds to the novelty, originality and diversity of different cultures. It’s about sharing experiences with others, having lively exchanges, coming out of our individual isolation to share in something new. Festivals have a way of making us feel like citizens of the world. They connect us to what’s happening elsewhere on the planet.
But just because we’re at a festival doesn’t mean our critical faculties are switched off. Quebec festivalgoers don’t extend their trust to big corporations easily, making it important for sponsors to take concrete action to improve the festival experience. Their presence alone does not guarantee success—in fact, quite the contrary. For the same reasons, overly commercial or intrusive tactics don’t always fly either, and can in fact trigger the opposite reaction than the one intended.
Quebecers have a deep love of festivals and participate in large numbers. Over the last few years, we’ve conducted several surveys with participants at the Just for Laughs Festival, the Montreal Jazz Fest, the Festival Western de St-Tite, Divers/Cité and others, and the results show a high level of satisfaction and loyalty. Participants clearly enjoy their experience, with the majority of them announcing their intention to return.
From a marketing standpoint, this represents a huge opportunity for brands looking to reinforce their own popularity. What better way for a brand to maintain or improve its image than to team up with a festival and contribute to the overall experience? But, generally speaking, festivals are places of pleasure, experience and discovery, and brands must respect that in their sponsorship plans. You can’t be too serious or look to feature or sell your products at all costs. You can’t be intrusive to the point of annoying festivalgoers through over-solicitation. You have to respect the festive atmosphere and not seek solely and absolutely to develop high brand awareness. Research has shown that a discrete and well integrated sponsorship campaign can increase brand appreciation and popularity more than overly aggressive and intrusive tactics looking only to build awareness. It makes sense: Quebecers go to festivals to have fun and discover the world. It’s up to brands to follow suit.
It goes without saying that every festival isn’t for every brand. It’s important to choose the festival based on target markets, brand values, the brand promise and short- and medium-term marketing objectives (keeping in mind that sponsorship is always a long-term investment). A mass-market product is a natural fit with a popular large-scale festival, just as a more targeted product may have more appeal in a niche event that reaches fewer people—but the right ones.
Of course, nothing works in absolutes and it’s important for brands to conduct an in-depth and detailed analysis of their needs and objectives before jumping headlong into the sponsorship of an event. After all, sponsoring a festival is generally a commitment of three to five years. So it’s important to choose wisely… and then enjoy the show.