Marketing Bonnaroo Digitally

The following story was published today in Digital Nashville’s July 2010 Newsletter. This is my original, unedited version of the article. Many thanks to Digital Nashville and my friend, Gabriel Aviles.

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Marketing Bonnaroo Digitally

Bonnaroo has distended far beyond the confines of its annual home on a 700-acre parcel of land in Middle Tennessee. The music festival has become, and is, a way of life for thousands of the most dedicated music fans you’re going to find. In nine short years, Bonnaroo has become the standard by which all other music festivals are judged. Not bad considering its curators are tasked with recreating the magic again next year, and the next.

For my first year as a paying attendee, I went for Metallica. Granted, Pearl Jam, The Avett Brothers and Ben Folds didn’t hurt anything, but I was there to experience one of my all-time favorite bands play to, historically, a mostly jam band crowd. It was absolutely remarkable. Amidst the camping and the porta-potties and the fascinating people, I fell in love with the idea of Bonnaroo.

How do you maintain the high that is the physical Bonnaroo? Digitally, of course. Kinda like how I’m listening to performances from this year’s Bonnaroo over and over and over as I write this (The National, Mumford & Sons, Jay-Z, The Dead Weather, etc.).

A few days after Bonnaroo 2010, I caught up with Jonathan Azu, Executive VP of Business Development and Marketing for Superfly Presents, to discuss digital marketing from the geniuses that, along with AC Entertainment, created and bring Bonnaroo to us every year.

“We really focus on awareness in the beginning,” Azu shares. “We want people to know that something is happening: here are the dates, here are the artists, here’s who’s playing. Then we shift to more targeted advertising; direct, re-targeting campaigns. We want to serve up an ad to those who have been to our sites, those we know that are interested. As the event gets closer, filter to those who have actually bought a ticket, sending them to a micro-site with the core details.”

Bonnaroo 2010 had an attendance of between 75,000 and 80,000, up over 2008 and 2009 according to Billboard.biz.

Azu continues, discussing effective tools, “We really want to communicate with how people are comfortable. We’ve had a lot of success engaging with people on Facebook, MySpace, MySpace Music and Twitter. The fans that are active on an artist’s MySpace page are able to learn about our event.”

The line-up for this year’s Bonnaroo was announced exclusively on MySpace. Acts were able to announce to their properties an hour before Bonnaroo added them to the official rollout.

For further insight into the far-reach potential of Bonnaroo and its digital marketing, consider the following from a Billboard.biz article, “An appearance on Bonnaroo can be the gift that keeps giving for bands. This year, Bonnaroo live-streamed on YouTube.com for the first time in an integrated sponsorship deal with Ford, and much of that material will be archived. Fuse TV will offer a wealth of post-event programming, including a one-hour compilation show the weekend following Bonnaroo, and a June 17 show on the growth of Kings Of Leon from a Bonnaroo tent act to a prime Friday night headlining slot on the fest’s mainstage. ‘These are all examples of how we can engage our audience more, how we can leverage our platform,’ [Jonathan] Mayers [President, Superfly Presents] says.”

Below are additional, specific tactics currently part of the Bonnaroo digital marketing mix:

1. Bonnaroo’s Online Radio. “Reliving the festival experience 365 days a year.” – That’s the tag-line for Bonnaroo Radio. Although I only discovered it a few weeks prior to Bonnaroo, I can honestly say that online radio station really helped me learn about some of the music at this year’s Bonnaroo, and it will continue, every day, until Bonnaroo 2011.

2. Video trailers. Bonnaroo put together faux movie trailers that helped further brand the 2010 line-up, while building excitement in a creative way.

3. Streaming during the event. As referenced above, Bonnaroo and YouTube, together with Ford, did a tremendous job of streaming 31 live, or near live, performances during this year’s festival. I consumed Bonnaroo 2010 strictly via the YouTube stream because I was unable to attend. The streaming was a great experience and made me feel very much a part of the festivities. Plus I tweeted and blogged about how and what I was watching.

4. Free samplers. Spin Magazine made available a 16-song sampler titled “SPIN Presents Campfire Songs: A Bonnaroo Mixtape 2010.” I can personally speak to the effectiveness of this one. I downloaded the SPIN sampler a few weeks prior to Bonnaroo, where I discovered The National and the band’s song, “Bloodbuzz Ohio.” After absolutely falling in love with that song, I made certain to watch The National’s streaming Bonnaroo performance on YouTube. I tweeted and blogged about The National multiple times during Bonnaroo.

5. Apps. Bonnaroo has an iPhone app to help with directions, scheduling, weather, etc. On the Bonnaroo app, you can listen to the stream of Bonnaroo Radio. Also in the Bonnaroo app, you can put your photos in a Bonnaroo frame to share with your digital community.

6. Widgets. Bonnaroo gave away a pair of tickets through a promotional Bonnaroo widget they asked people to post on their own web properties.

7. GigaPan Photo Contest. This is something Bonnaroo did following the 2009 weekend. I’m strongly assuming they’ll bring it back this year. They created four huge, hi-res panorama shots from Bonnaroo 2009. The idea was to get people to add one or all of the photos to their online locations, then they would be entered to win 2 VIP tickets to Bonnaroo 2010, plus a framed print of one of the panoramic shots. And, on Bonnaroo’s site you can zoom in and search the giant panoramics and try and find yourself.

8. Message Boards. Yep, I’m not kidding. I talked with my good friend Jerrod Brown, who just attended his seventh Bonnaroo, about how he stays connected with Bonnaroo in the off-season. He shared that Inforoo.com, a message board hub, is the primary online spot to stay in the loop. So much so that Bonnaroo brought it more officially into the fold and now links to Inforoo from Bonnaroo.com.

9. Blog updates. Constant updates on the official web properties during the event is key. Yes, plenty of those unable to attend are following particular hashtags on Twitter, looking for Facebook updates from their friends and reading the national entertainment media, but the official properties are key.

Even the hardest of the hardcore Bonnaroo goer needs marketing to remind them why they love it so much, and should not only go back next year, but bring their friends.

Until the next drunken tent search in Coffee County, Tennessee, there is plenty of digital marketing to be done to maximize the experience, and the brand.

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