The first images of the waterlogged Glastonbury site were hitting our newsfeeds, before a single note had been played. This weekend 150,000 thousand people will show the kind of passion, commitment and uninhibited enjoyment that brands can only dream of. It’s all about the music, and no amount of rain, mud or gangrene will stop the Glastonbury faithful from immersing themselves in the moment.
As I jealously scrolled through this year’s line-up, two questions struck me. 1) where are all the thumb-stoppers? And 2) Are this year’s headliners a direct response to the strong reactions whipped up by Kanye in 2015?
Before I explore either of these, let me caveat my thoughts:
1) I’ve no doubt negotiations for the headline spots start more than 12 months in advance, which probably answers Q2 – but bear with me!
2) The majority of tickets are sold before the headliners are announced, so any effect will be on sales of tickets for next year’s Glastonbury.
3) If ticket sales are affected, it’s unlikely to affect the number of tickets sold – but may affect the profile of people who see Glastonbury as ‘for me’.
4) Any claims I had to understanding – or liking – the music currently considered ‘edgy’ or ‘cool’ (showing my age) have lost all credibility. Though it pains me to admit it, my finger left that particular pulse long ago.
If the headliners are one of the criteria against which a Glastonbury is judged and chosen, let us draw comparison briefly with brand marketing campaigns.
In 2015, Kanye West delivered a performance dripping in ego and pomp, making bold claims and covering Bohemian Rhapsody unabashed. A rapper/R&B star (whatever he is) was a bold and unusual choice of headliner, but arguably in tune with the zeitgeist of the day (if not always in tune with his sample-heavy backing). It divided opinion and drew discussion and debate from all corners – from po-faced music journalists to social media lurkers – everyone came out of the woodwork with a view on THAT performance. How many brands would dream of generating that level of discussion around their brand?
Cast your mind back to Protein World’s ‘Beach Body Ready’ campaign last year. Personally I don’t endorse the message, but the £1 million in direct sales and 400% ROI is hard to ignore.
By comparison, let’s consider the Pyramid stage headliners this year. The edgiest is probably Muse. Personally I’m a fan, but I know virtuoso space-glam-prog rock isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Equally dripping in pomp, but far less likely to polarise and motivate the same strength or volume of opinion as Mr West.
Other than that, there’s Adele and Coldplay. Both hugely popular (arguably populist) choices. Perfectly valid choices as headliners of a major festival based on record and tour ticket sales – and as likely to be starred in your Spotify account as to appear in your Dad’s CD collection.
And even the most hardened music tastemakers, obscurity-chasers and know-alls have a Coldplay song they’ll tap their foot to.
Adele seems to match her mega-mass appeal with a grounded authenticity and self-awareness – “I can’t write another breakup record. That would be a real cliché” – alongside that inarguable natural talent that seems to set her apart from some of her contemporaries. This increasingly unusual combination earns nods of approval from all quarters, from serious muso types to ‘radio on in the background’ memorable-tune-appreciators.
Arguably, such appeal is the ultimate aim for brands – consistently likeable and liked by a huge audience, loved by many and appreciated by the rest. This rarely happens over the course of one campaign, of course, which begs the question…
Will your next campaign turn up unexpected with the bravado, behaviour and bold claims that divide opinion and get everyone actively engaged, splitting the audience either side of the proverbial fence; or will it seek to build universal, inoffensive likeability that most find hard to decry?