sonic drive-in range bonnaroo-2023-facade-of-footprint.

Sonic Builds an ‘Oasis’ at Bonnaroo with Custom Slushes and Mini Golf

“It met all of our goals of something where, if a fan really wanted to spend time with us, they could play golf and win prizes, but they didn’t have to. They could still come up and get a Slush and just be refreshed. Whereas, I think a lot of event marketers get so caught up in acquiring fans’ data. We didn’t require any of that.”

–Tamara Stanley, Senior Director-IMC and Social Strategy, Sonic

Sonic Bonnaroo 2023_Fans on lip installation

Playful installations, like a mouth with a color-changing tongue, were designed to inspire content capture.

Sonic Drive-In’s brand purpose is to add a “little oasis to your daily routine,” and the fast-food chain lived up to its word at Bonnaroo with the Sonic Drive-in Range, a music-inspired mini golf course and sampling experience that served as a respite for weary festivalgoers. Between photo-worthy golf holes, ice-cold Slushes, tiered prizes and a place to simply rest, the activation was designed to be a joyful, cooling escape—and a play for brand relevance. The strategy appears to have been a recipe for success, with Sonic attracting more than 3,000 golf participants over the course of the event, June 15-18, and distributing over 17,000 giveaways and 14,000 Slush samples.

For Sonic, the simplicity of the Drive-in Range activation was a strategic move. With the key goals of dishing out as many of its Slushes (a fan-favorite product) as possible and growing brand relevance, the company aimed to make the experience as easygoing and accessible as possible. At the booth, festivalgoers (who refer to themselves as “Bonnaroovians”) could either walk up and grab a complimentary Slush, which came in exclusive flavors, or opt to participate in a two-hole mini golf game before snagging their beverage. The game was purposely made simple to keep traffic flowing and avoid frustrating the participants. Depending on how they fared, festivalgoers could score various levels of swag, like cooling towels, koozies and sunglasses.

postmates-coachella-2023-entrance teaserMore from the 2023 Music Festival Scene:

“It really met all of our goals of something where, if a fan really wanted to spend time with us, they could play golf and win prizes, but they didn’t have to,” says Tamara Stanley, senior director-IMC and social strategy at Sonic. “They could still come up to us and get a Slush and just be refreshed… And the learning for us was, would I make it a little bit harder next time? Maybe. But I don’t think you should make it so hard that one, the experience takes the fan forever to get through, and two, it can run into so many IT issues when you’re in the middle of a field activating, especially. It felt right.”

Beyond the golf game itself, festivalgoers could snap photos of branded installations around Sonic’s footprint that were built for content capture, including both mini golf holes. One was a reimagination of the classic windmill in the form of a Slush machine with a wheel attached, while the other was a spinning guitar that emphasized why everyone was there in the first place: to hear live music. There was additionally a giant pair of lips with a tongue sticking out that made for a popular photo moment, particularly as the tongue intermittently changed colors, a nod to Sonic’s unique brand culture and community, which embraces the playfulness of a post-Slush tongue.

Other Sonic Drive-in Range touchpoints included cooling misters, a patio area with seating for some R&R and a particularly tall Sonic sign that helped the brand attract festivalgoers to its single-level booth in a sea of double-deckers. In addition, back-of-house air conditioning was critical to keep brand ambassadors cool as they distributed Slushes.

Swing through the Sonic Drive-in Range:

It was also essential to the brand that the activation be up and running in the evenings. To mimic the neon lights that its restaurants use at night, Sonic put extra effort into finding just the right lighting technique to illuminate its booth and keep the party going. (“It was even more beautiful at night than during the day,” notes Stanley.)

Influencer partnerships were another piece of the brand amplification strategy, and several influencers were on-site capturing content for their channels. Ultimately, the creators generated more than 2 million video views and 200,000 engagements on TikTok.

“I’m very thankful for the team because we’re very approachable, and therefore, the influencers had a great time and posted way more content than we contracted them to post,” says Stanley. “As marketers, you just have to stay humble. At the end of the day, it’s a people business. Not only are our fans people, but our agencies are people and our influencers are people. As long as you’re all connecting human-to-human, you can build really great events, and you’ll surprise yourself at what you can get out of it.” Partners: Wasserman (experiential agency); Pinnacle (build).

Photo credit: Taylor Regulski

Kait Shea
Posted by Kait Shea

Kait joined EM in 2015 and today enjoys her role as senior editor, digital content. When she’s not in reporter mode, rocking mermaid pants at Comic-Con or running laps at MWC Barcelona, you can find her at home listening to music.
View all articles by Kait Shea →

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