The nation’s biggest cultural events, like its sporting ones, have evolved over a generation into major business opportunities, but the Edinburgh festival remains a marketing desert
The nation’s biggest cultural events, like its sporting ones, have evolved over a generation into major business opportunities to which advertisers and marketeers flock with the same enthusiasm as the fans.
Entire industries have sprung up on the back of corporate entertaining, product placement, tie-ins, high-profile launches and the whole gamut of proactive PR which swings into play when any large crowd of people turn up at one place to be entertained. From an Oasis gig to the Cheltenham Literary Festival to the Vodafone Derby, no event is immune.
So, given the enormous popularity and fame of the Edinburgh festival, with a status as one of the world’s “majors”, and the ferocious magnetism ever present between the Fringe and bright new talent, I find it completely astonishing that marketeers seem to find it so difficult to connect their brands to what is happening in some – even faintly – meaningful way.
There are literally hundreds of journalists up here in the hotels, bars and restaurants, all hell-bent on finding a real story, something original that will keep their expense accounts buoyant and their editors nodding.
And there are tens of thousands of young intelligent 18- to 25-year-olds, the flower of the nation’s youth, up here laughing and drinking and making friends they may keep for life.
In other words, there is opportunity galore for someone – a bank? a brewer? an insurer? a car manufacturer? – to get creatively stuck in, to connect with the festival, to add value to what’s going on, and in turn reap the benefits of great marketing and brand management.
But no. It’s a desert. Yesterday’s arts supplement in the Scotsman featured advertising consisting of a dreary Toyota Prius logo, given no festival spin whatever. There it sat, a meaningless logo, plonked into a vacant ad space without a thought for the morning’s readership and without even a nod towards Scotland.
The Prius, apparently, is a “revolutionary green car”. It certainly is if it’s relying on telepathy to communicate this message, because you’d never know from the advertising. It’s so bland it surely must be so utterly cost-ineffective.
Who’s to blame? First the middle-ranking marketing execs and brand managers, those running the middle-ranking budgets among national brands, which are still gigantic compared with the budget of a typical Fringe theatre production or even a national newspaper’s arts coverage.
They should lead a procession of shame up to the castle for not seeking out original thinking and original ideas and instead squandering their employer’s advertising and PR budgets on being boring and “safe”.
Next come the planners and strategists – some of them, anyway. The ones too nervous to take any sort of punt in an arena (the festival itself) specifically designed to promote innovation and the “shock of the new”. That Toyota person, for instance, who buys valuable space right under festival-goers noses and then doesn’t bother to use it.
Challenged, I bet you’d hear platitudes along the lines of “broad pan-European strategy… blah blah… integrated marketing… blah blah… excellent sales figures.” Yes, but what about us? What do we get for putting up with your non-advertising?
And bringing up the rear, the media-buying agencies. Most of these number-crunchers who claim to be “in advertising” are like someone who cleans a film studio’s urinals claiming to be “in the movie business”.
The best media buyers provide inspirational opportunities for clients and creativity alike. At the top of their game they’re nutcases who love thinking up mad places to put ads, and entertain everyone with their knack for getting their clients’ ads noticed and praised. But God knows, they’ve certainly given Edinburgh a wide berth this year.
To cap it all, the brewers are now obliged by the PC-health thought-police lobby to sell the message that something called “sensible drinking” is very wonderful and that we should all start doing it. There’s only one response to that. I’m off to four shows tonight and then I’ll get sensibly drunk.
However, here’s a curious thing: the exception which proves the rule. In the two decades I’ve been coming here there’s one thing I have never ever seen. Not once. That’s a standup comedian of either gender drinking the only product with a brand name which really has locked itself into the festival’s psyche – Perrier.
Of all the drunken, sozzled, liver-melting, nose-swelling, shake-inducing, gut-ripping, stomach-heaving, carpet-trashing get-togethers on planet Earth, the Edinburgh Fringe festival must take the honours for being the ultimate booze paradise. From the elegant Scotch Whisky Society in Leith to the seediest pub in the city, everyone’s throwing it back as though total prohibition is just seconds away.
And amid all this, the only resonant brand name is Perrier. It’s a lovely self-deprecating touch which has benefited the brand and the fringe and kept it up for 25 years. But while you’re welcome to spend the rest of the year drinking mineral water to recover… tonight? Neau thanks.