From Boston Calling to Bonnaroo, music festivals are a bigger draw for millennials than ever. And for brands seeking to connect with this giant demographic of potential consumers, they’re a target-rich environment. But reaching this upwardly mobile generation isn’t as simple as investing in a sponsorship and slapping some branded banners around the grounds.

That’s why Miller Lite is ramping up its investments in experience-based initiatives like Miller Lite Bar 75, a premium, branded bar custom built for festivals that is back for 2018. It is among the tools the brand is using this year to connect with music fans at scores of music events and festivals around the country.

The 2,400-square-foot Miller Lite Bar 75 will make appearances at Boston Calling Music Festival in Allston, Mass.; Governors Ball Music Festival in New York; Austin City Limits in Austin, Texas; and Lost Lake Festival in Phoenix. A smaller, mobile Miller Lite Bar 75 is slated to travel to more than a dozen local and regional festivals throughout the season.

The brand also had a substantial presence at Jazz Fest in New Orleans last month and plans major efforts at both Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tenn., where it sponsors a stage for new and emerging musical acts; and Summerfest in Milwaukee, where it has the Miller Lite Oasis, a giant venue with its own stage that holds up to 12,000 concertgoers.

In all, the brand team estimates that Miller Lite Bar 75 will reach 650,000 people in person and garner more than 26 million media impressions, says Jonathan Gallagher, who leads Miller Lite’s music and baseball initiatives.

Connecting with music fans at festivals “is increasingly important for us, because 80 percent of millennials identify music as a prime passion point in their life,” Gallagher says. “Out of that group, 80 percent say they drink beer on the weekends. Music lovers are beer drinkers, so it’s critical for us to stay relevant and connect with our consumers where they are.”

These drinkers “value authenticity,” so connecting with them in person at events “not just as a sponsor, but as a fellow fan” is important, Gallagher says. One way Miller Lite does this is through custom illustrations it designs for each festival “that consumers love because of their originality” and want to take home to commemorate the festival.

This type of experiential marketing is a growing channel for brands, in large part because the most-coveted demographic of consumers, millennials, react differently to traditional advertising than their older counterparts. More than 7 in 10 of these consumers would choose an experience over a material item, according to a study from the Harris Group.

It’s a strategy used by brands ranging from Facebook to Gatorade to entertainment network HBO, typically employed during large gatherings like festivals, music shows and sporting events.

Companies that fare best at integrating brands into events are better at ensuring they reach their intended consumer, according to a recent Forbes column.

The top goal of such sponsorships, of course, is to recruit new legal-age drinkers to the brand, an imperative for beer brands such as Miller Lite as more younger drinkers have migrated in recent years to wine and spirits. That’s in part because those industries have developed a cache of new packaging that makes their products more mobile, which was long a competitive advantage for canned beer.

The Bar 75 spaces sell Miller Lite and are filled with millennial creature comforts, such as shaded seating, a wall of fans to cool down, phone chargers, Wi-Fi connections, speakers and “activation walls” where drinkers can scrawl messages, compete for prizes and interact with the brand.

Research collected on behalf of MillerCoors shows they work to drive sales. Consumers that entered the Miller Lite-branded space at the Governors Ball festival in 2017 were 30 percent more likely to drink Miller Lite in the four weeks following the event, according to the data.

With that in mind, Gallagher says, the brand also is focused on leveraging its festival alliances in each market, making them tent-pole events to generate incremental displays at retail and boost sales in the weeks leading up to each event.

“Once our distributor partners and retailers saw this come to life, they gave it their full support,” Gallagher says. “We’ve more than tripled our retail display orders in 2018, and we’re seeing a lot more support in those markets. We’re excited to bring more of these to life this year.”

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