For music fans, the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, to be held June 7–10 in rural Manchester, Tennessee, will have a little bit of everything.

Pining for some spacey jam sessions? Phish, Dispatch, and Umphrey’s McGee will have you covered. Maybe you’re looking for some ’90s nostalgia; try Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, or Ben Folds Five. It could be you just want some front-porch-friendly bluegrass; don’t miss the Avett Brothers, Trampled by Turtles, or the Punch Brothers.

Or, if those acts aren’t sweet enough for you, head on over to the Ben & Jerry’s tent and grab a free scoop of Bonnaroo Buzz ice cream. The quirky treat company, which over the years has made ice creams in conjunction with musicians like Jerry Garcia (Cherry Garcia), Phish (Phish Food), and Dave Matthews Band (One Sweet Whirled and Magic Brownies), is in its third year of a partnership with the annual festival.

It’s a relationship that proves when looking to gain exposure through event-based promotions, quick-serve concepts can sometimes look past high-profile sports sponsorships. Sometimes they just have to find an event that dances to the beat of the same drum.

Taking Center Stage

Jay Curley is integrated marketing manager of Ben & Jerry’s and plays point in the company’s relationship with Superfly Marketing Group, the firm that organizes Bonnaroo and other festivals across the U.S.

Music and festivals are in Ben & Jerry’s DNA, Curley says, dating back to a time when the company would host fairs in its hometown of Burlington, Vermont, and hire pianists to play some tunes in its Scoop Shops. As Ben & Jerry’s grew, that commitment to music evolved until it encompassed the iconic musician-based flavors.

The partnership with Bonnaroo was the next step in that evolution.

“We were looking for a new [music] opportunity like that, but we were looking for something that was particularly around college-aged folks, something that is true to our heritage and true to who we are in the partnerships that we’ve had but was updated and modern,” Curley says, adding that Superfly initiated contact with the treats concept. “Bonnaroo in a lot of ways is a great partner because, like us, they have this jam-band heritage, but they’ve evolved to accompany the American music scene.”

Bonnaroo also subscribes to a similar ethos as Ben & Jerry’s. The event, which launched in 2002 and was named one of the 50 moments that changed the history of rock ‘n roll by Rolling Stone, is committed to running as “green” a festival as possible. In 2011 it diverted 238.31 tons of waste from the landfill, which was 68 percent of its waste by volume. Bonnaroo is also socially conscious, supporting organizations and programs focused on arts, education, environmental sustainability, and other causes.

“When we thought about partners, which we always do for our festivals, Ben & Jerry’s kind of popped out as a brand that has the exact same type of philosophy as we did,” says Alex Machurov, director of brand partnerships for Superfly.

“It all comes down to at the end, we’re two very like-minded brands. Our festivals, and particularly Bonnaroo, have always been about community, it’s always been about sustainability, and always been about building an experience that also has a certain philosophy behind it.”

The two forces came together in April 2010, when Ben & Jerry’s debuted the Bonnaroo Buzz flavor to Scoop Shops nationwide. The flavor, which includes coffee and malt ice creams with toffee chunks and a whiskey caramel swirl, also launched in pint form in 2011.

But a flavor carrying the Bonnaroo name wasn’t the only way Ben & Jerry’s hoped to capitalize on the popular festival, which is expected to draw about 150,000 fans next month. The company also operates a tent in the festival’s Planet Roo eco-village, where nonprofits and other organizations promote environmental and social activism.

From the tent, Ben & Jerry’s offers free scoops of Bonnaroo Buzz and promotes its own causes. The company raised awareness about its Fair Trade Certified ingredients in 2011, “making sure the festival-goers understood what that meant,” Curley says. This year Ben & Jerry’s will spotlight its Get the Dough Out campaign, which is fighting to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that gave corporations the right to spend money on elections.

“The good news is that when you’re giving out free ice cream, people come to you,” Curley says with a laugh. “So we have pretty much the longest lines—minus maybe the bathrooms or the beer tent—at the whole festival.”

Ben & Jerry’s also promotes its festival presence through social media, online video, and even interaction backstage with the artists and other VIPs. But the company doesn’t stop leveraging Bonnaroo when the festival wraps after four days of shows.

“Over the last two years we’ve done a series of concerts at the Scoop Shops in markets throughout the country—Boston, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, L.A.—where we have bands that played Bonnaroo doing a show at one of our Scoop Shops,” Curley says. “That’s been a fun way to kind of take the festival out of just a weekend in Tennessee, and bring it to Ben & Jerry’s and Bonnaroo fans around the country.”

Leveraging its partnership with Bonnaroo in these creative ways is a must for Ben & Jerry’s because some other, more traditional sponsorship opportunities aren’t offered at Bonnaroo. Machurov says Superfly hesitates to allow the same kind of corporate sponsorship, like specially named stages or areas, seen at other major festivals.

“We don’t want our partners to necessarily hit our fans over the head with overbearing signage,” he says. “What we like to do with all of our partners is integrate them into the fabric of the festival. So it’s about an experience. It’s about the partner and the brand to interact one on one with our fans and consumers so that in the end, our fans walk away from the experience and feel like that particular partner enhanced their festival experience as opposed to just marketed directly to them.”

Next: Playing to the Crowd


Playing to the Crowd

Ben & Jerry’s partnering with a major event isn’t something new to the quick-service industry. Concepts big and small have discovered that sponsorship investments provide a valuable way to earn exposure and display a brand personality that many customers are looking to connect with.

But most of the attention surrounding sponsorship opportunities in the U.S. have focused on sports, not music festivals.

“Yes, we have seen a number of quick-service restaurants—a slew of them, actually—involved in sports,” says William Chipps, senior editor of the IEG Sponsorship Report, a product of sponsorship analyst and consultant IEG. “But I think it’s an untapped area, so to speak, [at] music events, where basically quick-service restaurants can get involved and gain a bigger presence for the fact that it’s not so crowded with other quick-service restaurants in that space.”

“Not so crowded” might be an understatement. According to IEG, there is ample opportunity for quick serves to get on board with events like Bonnaroo. The 2011 IEG Sponsorship Report found that only 10 percent of music festivals reported having a quick-service restaurant as a sponsor. Further, only 10 percent of civic festivals and 3 percent of arts festivals reported the same.

Chipps says quick serves often demand category exclusivity when sponsoring, which would limit the event to hosting just one restaurant brand.

“There’s a number of major music festivals in the states,” he says, “but when it comes down to it, that’s really not all that many. So I think that’s going to limit the number of restaurants getting [involved].”

The rise of new food trends might start to change the way festivals approach food opportunities, however. Machurov says Superfly is evolving Bonnaroo’s food and drink opportunities based on Generation Y’s newfound passion for culinary arts.

“It’s hard to ignore the fact that foodie culture is now mass culture, and that chefs are now the new rock stars,” he says. “So we’re finding ways in which we can actually find a common ground between a live music experience and a top-notch live culinary experience.”

In 2011, that included a new food-truck area at Bonnaroo, as well as a section dedicated to microbreweries (both sections will return for this year’s festival). Machurov says he’s had conversations with other popular national brands to fill spots at Bonnaroo, but Ben & Jerry’s is the only national quick serve to attend in 2012. He says that’s because his firm hasn’t received much interest from fast food brands, not even “cool” brands that resonate with Millennials.

The benefits of sponsoring a festival like Bonnaroo seem obvious. For starters, it’s a captive audience; more than 100,000 people camping in rural Tennessee for four days need to eat somewhere. And by traveling to Bonnaroo in the first place, fans have proved that they’re willing to spend their disposable income on the event.

Beyond Bonnaroo

Can’t make it to Manchester to rock out at Bonnaroo? You’re in luck. There are countless music festivals across the U.S. every year, with plenty of opportunity for your brand to take center stage. Here’s a sample of what’s still to come in 2012:

Sasquatch Music Festival

George, Washington

May 25–28

Pitchfork Music Festival


July 13–15

Newport Folk Festival

Newport, Rhode Island

July 28–29



August 3–5


Raleigh, North Carolina

September 6–8

Austin City Limits Music Festival

Austin, Texas

October 12–14

VooDoo Music Experience

New Orleans

October 26–28

“That also includes learning about new culinary opportunities,” Machurov says. “What you’re finding is any kind of sponsorship, or in particular brand activation, at a festival is really hitting our fans on a one-on-one basis at a time when they’re having the times of their lives. And if they have a positive experience with your brand in that environment, they’re going to take that home with them.”

Indeed, music festivals are sprouting up across the U.S., with other quirky names like Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Hopscotch. And at all of these events, customers are hungry for a memorable music—and food—experience.

Jacqueline Lisenby organizes festivals as chief visionary officer and talent marketing executive at entertainment agency Statusj. She says there are opportunities for all types of quick-serve concepts to get involved as sponsors.

“Because of Bonnaroo—that’s kind of trendy, and definitely a specific market—you’d want a brand that kind of aligns with that,” Lisenby says. “But there are festivals that may not be considered trendy, like folk festivals. So there’s a brand that has a personality that would resonate with those people as well. I think you have to think beyond trends and think about the actual personality of the brand.”

Lisenby says niche festivals also open the door for concepts to either revamp their brand personality or connect with a new type of customer demographic.

In many ways, that’s how Ben & Jerry’s found success with Bonnaroo. As a brand celebrating 25 years of an ice cream named after the ringleader of the Grateful Dead, it’s also getting in front of Deadheads’ kids and even grandkids at Bonnaroo.

Curley says that’s exactly why Ben & Jerry’s skips opportunities with sports sponsorships in favor of music deals.

“For us to authentically be in a place, we want it to make sense for who we are as a company,” he says. “Music is a much more natural fit. So far we’ve found plenty of opportunities in that space, so it’s not like we’ve had to go looking around.

“That’s my advice. What is an authentic place for your brand to be? Start there. Don’t start with the demos and the reach and that kind of stuff. Start where you have reason to be there.”

Consumer Trends, Desserts, Marketing & Promotions, Story, Ben & Jerry's