Download Festival: Home Of Rock N’ Roll Or New Home To Mainstream Advertising?

IIt is no surprise that festival goers drink copious quantities of alcohol. After all, nobody likes to party and drink more than rock and rollers. The alcohol industry far from oblivious to this fact, and alcohol is being pushed more and more into this ‘arena’.

One Red Bull too many?

But does appealing to this particular demographic work, or is the rock ‘n’ roll principle of ‘sticking it to the man’ alive and well?

It would have to be said that in this day and age, no one is immune to the temptations of well-placed advertising. At this year’s Download festival, a good friend of mine and I did indeed spend four hours in ‘Tuborg Town’ downing pints and watching people throw themselves up and down a bungee run. We then proceeded to the Zippo tent where my friend spent thirty pounds on a lighter. I was shocked, but it seemed that the majority of people who had been drinking were moving on from beer tents to the tent of the mother of all lighters.

By attaching itself to the rock and roll image, Zippo has jumped on the idea that all rockers need a lighter to wave during ‘that one power ballad.’ People are buying into the idea. By marketing their brand alongside numerous rock and alcohol brands, Zippo’s advertising method has created an ‘in’ brand upon which people are willing to spend money because they feel that the brand represents them.

It was an incredibly astute move on Zippo’s part to promote Download, but it is one thing to buy your favourite band jumper when intoxicated; perhaps another to buy into a brand whose association with rock music is somewhat manufactured and arbitrary.

Another surprising marketing in-road in recent years has been the addition of the ‘Pepsi Max’ and ‘Red Bull Bedroom Jam’ stages at Download. These two brands have demonstrated to the alcohol industry that there is a market for both energy drinks and soft drinks in the rock genre. By promoting these drinks, Red Bull in particular is becoming more and more associated with mainstream rock.

Red Bull’s Bedroom Jam, for those of you who are in the dark, is a platform for rock musicians to submit a music video to the Bedroom Jam website and get votes online from people who like the music. The most popular bands have the chance then to play all the festivals in the UK! This is obviously a great chance for those just starting out a career, but it also makes Red Bull more accessible to music fans.

Giving Download its wings?

Several people I encountered at Download were exposed to Red Bull through the Bedroom Jam contest, and now drink Red Bull regularly. By associating rock music and soft drinks, festivals can also appeal to the ‘straight edge’ side of things, where for those who don’t (or can’t) drink alcohol, there is always time for a Red Bull. Many of the bands featured on the smaller Red Bull stage seem to appeal to a younger audience, which is probably no accident.

Perhaps the only way we will be able to enjoy rock music now is through branding. It is sad that now in this day and age just taking over a field, banging out some rocking tunes and having warm beer is no longer viable. I would of course rather have a festival than no festival, but if festivals are to increasingly become a marketing exercise for big brand names at music’s expense, then maybe it is time to pull the plug, hang up those wellie boots and call it a night.

Rona Sannachan is a freelance journalist who enjoys writing, music, vegetarianism, and her bold attempts to fuse them.