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The brutal simplicity of thought

In January 2016, a festival promoter called me to a meeting to discuss sponsorship for Mad Cool, a massive new festival scheduled to take place in Madrid.

It was an enormous challenge, attempted by many before, and so far, achieved by none. Since the early 2000s, Spain had become ‘the land of summer festivals,’ with 851 outdoor events attracting 3.5 million spectators in 2016, and with +15% growth compared to the previous year.

Mad Cool 2016 reached the very respectable figure of 35,000 attendees for each of its three days, with legendary rockers The Who and Neil Young providing the headline slots. But what made it such a unique event (it won best new festival in the 2016 edition of the European Festival Awards) was that along with a stellar line-up, it focussed on the customer experience from the very beginning. Our launch campaign, known as The Speaker Boy, had a great impact nationwide and foretold of a distinctive new festival that would combine a Coachella-type experience with a truly cosmopolitan flavour.

For this project, M&C Saatchi Sponsorship was hired to implement a ‘brutal simplicity of thought’ approach, not only on the creative side but also with regard to sponsorship services.

But how do we implement this approach within our industry? Nowadays, promoters are faced with the challenge of creating a distinctive event, a brand in itself, where the customer experience is a key element of an event’s success. Whilst the line-up is important, it’s not enough, in my experience, to guarantee a successful festival.

The phrase ‘brutal simplicity of thought’ sums up M&C Saatchi’s approach, and has its origins in Bertrand Russell’s masterpiece The Conquest of Happiness, in which Russell explains that happiness can only be achieved by “the painful necessity of thought.” The phrase expresses our distaste for waffle and vagueness, and a strong preference for getting to the point. For many years, this phrase has acted like a threshing machine, separating the intellectual wheat from the chaff. It reminds us that simplicity is the outcome of technical subtlety; that it is the goal, not the starting point. Now more than ever, because people are busier than ever, a precis is a modern form of good manners.

Promoters are faced with the challenge of creating a distinctive event, a brand in itself, where the customer experience is a key element

So how does this concept relate to the sponsorship industry? Is there a simple word to define sponsorship? The answer to both of these questions is ‘credibility’.

Up until the early 80s, sponsorship focussed on gaining exposure and improving awareness – or, in other words: logo-flashing. Even today we find corporate sponsors competing for consumers’ attention – and ultimately their purchasing decisions – while maintaining the notion that size is what matters the most.

Then came the mid-80s and early 90s and an era characterised by fast-paced sponsorship based on obtaining short-term benefits. This short-lived trend mostly disappeared when the new model took its place. Sponsors then started to look at brand integration, implementing it with better processes and documenting results more efficiently.

Fast-forward a few years and a very different model of sponsorship arrived. In the past, sponsors concentrated on creating bonds with events, rather than with their target markets. Today’s customers, who are exposed to thousands of logos every minute of every day, don’t even notice them anymore. We are now working on a revised, evolved model that no longer puts the focus on direct gains, but on what we can offer. The focus is no longer on the brand or the event, but on the customer and their experience.

Nowadays, our brands position themselves next to their potential customers, sharing their passions and using their event to recreate meaningful and long-lasting memories.

We make this connection with credibility – a meaningful gesture, a sharing of values, or a way for your market to become part of the event. Advertising targets the consumer using visual impact and a ‘please like me’ approach, whereas sponsorship touches their soul with a ‘we love music too, and that’s why we are here with you, making this awesome experience possible’ approach.


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