Promotions | May 2012 | By Sam Oches

The Buzz About Bonnaroo

Ben & Jerry’s discovered that a good sponsorship partner is one that jibes with your brand personality.

Ben & Jerry's offers Bonnaroo Buzz ice cream at the annual music festival.
image used with permission.

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

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