This paper aims to examine the cultural heritage of outdoor rock and pop music festivals in Britain since the mid‐1960s, and relates it to developments in, and critiques of, corporate sponsorship in the contemporary music festival sector.
The paper uses extant research materials to construct an account of British music festival history since the mid‐1960s. It then draws upon Bakhtin's concept of the carnivalesque and the literature on sponsorship, experiential marketing and branding, in order to understand critiques of corporate sponsorship and the changing nature of the sector.
Outdoor rock and pop music festivals were dominated by the ideologies of a “countercultural carnivalesque” from the late 1960s until the mid‐1990s. In the 1990s, changes in legislation began a process of professionalization, corporatization, and a reliance on brand sponsorships. Two broad trajectories are identified within the contemporary sector: one is strongly rooted in the heritage of the countercultural carnivalesque, while the other is more overtly commercial.
It is argued that experiential marketing and brand activation are key methods for achieving a balance between the competing aspects of commerce and carnival. Hence, festival organisers and sponsors need to understand the history of the sector and of their own events and attendees in order to use corporate sponsorship more effectively.
This paper adds historical and theoretical depth to the debate between commerce and carnival within the music festival sector, and makes connections between cultural theory and the literature on sponsorship and branding.
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