Marketing to the concert crowd

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Say you were an advertising executive eager to promote your brand or product to the most coveted demographic - young people.

You'd be looking for the most effective way to make them aware of what you have to sell, and you'd have a variety of options: TV, newspapers, radio, magazines and so on. But all of those media require the target audience to come to you. What if you could go to them?

Perhaps you'd do what Major League Baseball, Subway and Kellogg's are doing this summer and sponsor a big-name concert tour. Just think: A traveling festival like Ozzfest, which stops at Nissan Pavilion in Bristow, Va., on Aug. 22, packs in more than 20,000 people, the vast majority of whom fall into the 16-to-24-year-old demographic. And best of all for advertisers, concert crowds are essentially captive audiences - they're not going anywhere; there's no channel surfing.

Add a few enticements - a batting cage, for example, or free food - and suddenly all of those young spenders are talking about you.

"It's very important for us to always try to get younger and try to make ourselves relevant to the up-and-coming consumers," says Steve Armus, vice president of licensing for Major League Baseball properties. "It's a demographic that everybody wants because of their influence and their buying power. They're directing the future."

Corporations have sponsored tours for years - Anheuser-Busch paid the Rolling Stones big bucks to put the Budweiser brand name on the band's Steel Wheels tour in 1989, and the Vans shoe company has its moniker on the punk-centric Warped tour. But the latest wave of sponsorship is about more than just name recognition. These companies are actively recruiting consumers.

The baseball folks are doing it with pairs of promotional tractor-trailers, called the MLB Road Show, which are on tour with Ozzfest and Lollapalooza as part of an agreement with Clear Channel Entertainment. The Texas company has a financial stake in both tours, and owns or books nearly 100 amphitheaters and other U.S. venues.

One of the Road Show trucks is loaded up with video game systems so concert-goers can try out MLB-themed games on Sony Playstations or Nintendo X-Boxes. The other truck is stuffed with memorabilia and unpacks to feature pitching and batting cages to provide a diversion between music acts.

"People are lined up to participate in these types of things, and these are the typical kids of America today, and they love it," Armus says, and so do many of the musicians. Ozzy Osbourne requested an authentic Los Angeles Dodgers jersey, and the guys in Pearl Jam took batting practice when the MLB Road Show set up at one of the band's shows earlier this year.

Kids also love the Subway booth on the Vans Warped tour, says Dick Pilchen, head of local marketing and profitability for the Milford sandwich chain. Subway gives away mints, bottles of water and samples.

"Anything with our name on it, and we always give them discount coupons, because the idea is to get them back into our stores," Pilchen says.

The chain has been involved with music ever since Pilchen started as the first Subway employee in 1965. In fact, a local Connecticut band, the Crayons, recorded a Subway jingle that later became one of the group's most-requested songs at live gigs. The company has also done product placement and video tie-ins, but the Warped tour is Subway's first foray into what is called event-marketing.

"We did it sort of as a test to see, well, can we do event-marketing like this and can we make it a success?" Pilchen says.

Kellogg's became involved with event-marketing on last summer's tour of finalists from the American Idol TV show. This year, the Michigan cereal maker is using the American Idols Live! tour to introduce a new frozen, hot-fudge-sundae flavored Pop-Tart.

But do Subway, Major League Baseball or Kellogg's really need to stalk their quarry in amphitheaters and arenas across the country? Who in our culture is unaware of these companies and their products? Every third video on MTV features someone wearing a baseball jersey, former fatty Jared from Subway is a household name, and even Bart and Lisa Simpson eat Pop-Tarts.

That's not the point, Armus and Pilchen say.

"You don't just market product on one level, you know, you market product on a lot of levels and on a consistent basis," Armus says. "And while organically we're there with the artists already and continue to make inroads every day, it's important to nurture that demographic and continue to add on to those who may not have the message. It's the same reason companies continue to run advertising year after year on staple products, whether they're colas or razor blades."

It's all about keeping your name in people's minds, Pilchen agrees.

"We like to make sure there's reinforcement, that people know about us, but if you go after young people, you have a better shot at converting them and keeping them for a long period of time," he says.

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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