How brands like CLIF Bar, Corona and REI take ownership of their events
Most event marketers have enjoyed the benefits of sponsoring a vibrant event. Maybe a music festival that attracts the millennial audience they’re trying to reach, or a sporting event that draws thousands into a stadium—and their on-site activation.
But at some point they’ve no doubt wondered—what would happen if we took all that experience and financial investment and created our own event?
CLIF Bar has sponsored everything from the Ironman, the Burton US Open and the Boston Marathon to countless local runs and rides around the country and in its hometown of San Francisco. And for three years, it took the plunge and launched its own proprietary event, dubbed the CLIF Bar CykelScramble (which is currently on hiatus as the brand dreams up a new course). Part obstacle course and part festival, it became a new way for consumers to experience the brand and for CLIF Bar to make a greater impact on attendees.
“Sponsoring all those other events is great, but you only get a small portion of the voice. You’re limited to your booth size and what you can do outside of that in terms of grassroots,” says Adrian Santos, event manager at CLIF Bar. “With owning our own event, we have complete control and complete majority of voice.”
Corona in partnership with Live Nation brings its Electric Beach program to EDM festivals across the nation, and has activated about 40 proprietary Electric Beach events per year across eight cities on rooftop bars with pools and at beach resorts. So Jim Sabia, cmo at Corona, knows a thing or two about creating a proprietary event.
“Developing a proprietary event series isn’t the easiest thing to do, and we feel like a big part of the reason we’ve been so successful is the incredible equity we’ve built for the Corona brand for almost four decades. That ‘Find Your Beach’ mentality and connection the brand has to kicking back and enjoying time with friends and family has been consistent and iconic,” Sabia says.
Proprietary events such as the Outessa Summit, a weekend outdoor getaway for women, are a major focus at REI, the outdoor retailer, where 80 to 90 percent of its events are proprietary, such as its trail run series of 5 and 10Ks in over two dozen markets as well as REI-specific campouts. The remainder goes to outside events like the Ragnar Trail Series, the largest overnight running relay series in the U.S.
Besides ownership and control of the experience, proprietary events are an opportunity for brands to stand out as an authentic voice in a sea of marketing messages and to forge a deeper one-on-one connection with a target audience.
Here’s a closer look at how some of these brands do it.
Proprietary events position your brand as the voice of authority, whether you’re targeting trail runners, beer drinkers or outdoor adventure seekers. CLIF Bar’s founder is a huge biking enthusiast who came across the energy bar concept on a 135-mile bike trip across Europe, so the CLIF Bar CykelScramble cuts straight to the heart of the company.
The same holds true at REI, where authenticity is priority No. 1, says Stu Trusler, the company’s national events coordinator. “We are so focused on, as everyone should be, the customer and enhancing their experiences, whether it is our own proprietary event or a partnership with another company. We want to be experience-leading and not sales-leading.”
Ditto for Corona. “We aren’t just looking for logo placement or ‘sponsoring’ an event. We want to create an experience,” says Sabia. For Corona, that experience involves an environment for relaxing, dancing, partying and live music, along with cool interactives such as underwater photo ops and black light body painting stations.
At a proprietary event, your brand is the star of the show, an ideal spot to raise awareness, immerse attendees in your brand and forge a connection. The 2016 CLIF Bar event drew 8,300 spectators and 75 teams of four, all decked out in costume as they raced through the obstacle course. Local brewer Lagunitas Beer sponsored a beer garden; Camelbak, which is located nearby, distributed water bottles and Mike’s Bike, a local bike shop, participated. “We are definitely on to something because this is something unique that had never been done before,” Santos says. “Our desire is to feed and inspire adventure in all of us.”
At Corona, Electric Beach is a way to resonate with fans. The events feature local djs and up-and-coming artists, and the brand works closely with venues and talent to create a unique experience for each event, including customized art based on the dj. “We choose events that make a connection directly to something they care about,” says Sabia. “For our Electric Beach fans, particularly multicultural millennials, there’s an enthusiasm for dance music that’s like none other.
“Sponsoring concerts and music festivals certainly have a place for our brand, and those investments are important. From EDC Las Vegas to Nocturnal Wonderland in Los Angeles, we’ve aligned Corona with some incredible artists that our consumers love. But with Electric Beach, we get to take the brand experience a step further and generate really positive memories and moments directly with our fans,” Sabia says. Which is something you may decide to do, too.
*This article was originally published in 2017 and is updated periodically