As festivals continue to become the dominating platform for live entertainment, brands are desperately seeking creative and more unique ways to get involved. But is comedy the secret ingredient that many companies are missing? EARMILK chats with Superfly's Chad Issaq who has been monetizing the festival experience for almost 20 years and has helped produce over 50 nationally recognized festivals including the launch of Bonnaroo and Outside Lands to learn more.
Comedy Central, Superfly (the founders behind Bonnaroo, and Outside Lands), and co-producers Another Planet Entertainment are preparing for their third installment of Clusterfest—a three-day comedy and music festival located in the heart of San Francisco with performances by Amy Poehler & Friends, John Mulaney, Patton Oswalt, Issa Rae, My Favorite Murder, The Roots, Ilana Glazer, Courtney Barnett, and many more.
Clusterfest is a one of kind celebration of comedy in the U.S. on a mass scale but it's the immersive attractions offered at that go beyond the lineup that really sets this festival apart. The immersive experiences it offers fans has allowed partnering brands to engage with the festival's audiences in a memorable way that is rewriting the book on brand activations.
For example, this year's festival will feature a Benny Hope & Teddy Perkins Memorial Museum from FX’s Atlanta, including Benny’s wheelchair, Teddy’s father’s mannequin, and the infamous ostrich egg holder. A giant wall of phones will provide fans a chance to listen in on classic Crank Yankers phone calls and take photos with puppets. A double-decker bus, in partnership with McDonald's, will offer fans a chance to try unique menu items typically only offered exclusively to different cities around the world. There will be a Drunk History Pub featuring drinks, food, and a trivia night with special appearances from host Derek Waters. And if that's not enough, fans will have the opportunity to walk around Jerry’s iconic New York City apartment from Seinfeld or a recreation of NBC's The Office Dunder Mifflin's Scranton branch. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
"When we built Clusterfest, the vision was; How do you create a property that's a real physical manifestation of the content consumption habits in today's day in age," shares Chad Issaq, Executive Vice President Business Development & Partnerships at Superfly. "When you think about brand spending on various platforms, you look at what they spend in film, sports, music, games, they spend all this money in various sectors where people have these incredible passions for that sector."
And he's not wrong. This is why companies can safely rely on their marketing investments reaching targeted audiences at events like Bonnaroo, Coachella or even Comic-con. The attendance of events like these are mostly comprised of strong fandoms that support music, comic book culture, technology, even the porn industry. But are fans of comedy just as passionate?
"What I have thought about tremendously over the last two years since launching Clusterfest, is that comedy is the biggest form of content that we consume—both in the diversity of the platforms from which we consume but also the diversity of the content itself," exclaims Issaq. This is where he makes two very interesting points to consider.
For starters, fans of the comedy form aren't exclusive to stand up acts. Fandoms of comedy can be equally, if not more, supportive to its use in TV shows, movies, singers, late-night talk shows, Instagram meme accounts, podcasts, etc. The areas from which we consume comedy truly are limitless and therefore can be relatable to almost any other sector.
Second, the actual physical content behind something like a viral social media posts can come in unlimited forms—ranging from a badly photo-shopped meme to a 10-second TikTok video. Music fans of Billie Eilish watching her answer music related questions while battling the heat from a wing eating challenge on an episode of 'Hot Ones' is equally as engaging (if not more) than another YouTube video capturing here play an acoustic set on a radio show. This is why Clusterfest is at the epicenter for exploring what that limitless potential for creating exciting brand activations presents.
"It's really important for us when we talk to brand partners that they really understand the fandom around comedy and how do you tap into these audiences who truly love the talent," shares Issaq. His style of thinking takes the sponsored festival activation to the next level. Installations like the notable 'Heineken House' deliver a separate stage with different musicians as a side attraction at major music festivals like Coachella and Outside Lands that already deliver that exact experience. Its redundancy lies in its sheer existence. It's like getting reservations to a 3-star Michelin restaurant, just so you can walk through to a third-party mediocre restaurant that exists by the bathrooms. Though surprise performances by artists like Big Boi can provide exciting entertainment, there's really not much that actually separates that specific entertainment from what's already happening. Brands in the modern age should be asking themselves; What are we providing fans with that they can't get anywhere else? Looking beyond this obvious form of branded experiences is what Superfly is able to explore with Clusterfest.
Fans would enjoy a Jerry Seinfeld performance on the main stage as they would from a surprise pop up performance. But physically interacting with a recreation of Jerry's apartment from Seinfeld cannot be transferred onto the main stage with the same level of engagement. Issaq shared, "The first "Aha" moment we (Superfly) had was when we first booked Seinfeld in 2017 and we worked with Warner Bros. to recreate his apartment from the show as a fun idea. We didn't know how well it would be received but people stood in line for 2-3 hours that year just for the chance to break into the room like Kramer or Elaine would have. We created a major attraction for fans to interact with an already booked entertainment in a different way they didn't know was possible."
Comedy is so powerful and because it's like a second language, we don't even realize the hold that it has on us. Issaq and his team at Superfly have done extensive research into the psychology of it all. He continues, "Comedy isn't just stand up, its all the ways we celebrate our favorite comedians and the TV properties they represent. I think a lot about the relationships of fans and their relation to our favorite TV shows. These shows have been such an integral part of our lives for so many years that they have become embedded in our vernacular as human beings. It is those intrinsic elements from these comedies that we don't realize have greatly impacted our daily lives."
But there's a lot more to this than just recreating the sets from beloved sitcoms. There are still low entry marketing opportunities available for creating unique experiences that don't require massive studio budgets. Issaq shared, "The second "Aha" moment we had also came in 2017 when we were looking to celebrate the 25-year Anniversary of Wayne's World. Well, we could have Mike Myers participate but that wasn't really possible, so what if we did a live reading and just read the full movie script with stand-ins on the main stage? So we booked Ilana Glazer and Abby Jacobson from Broad City with a few other comedians to do a full script read, with a band in the corner prepared to do perform riffs for the "Bohemian Rhapsody" moment. We ended up having 6,000 people seated for this, that's Radio City Music Hall size attendance and it was a true testament to comedic fandoms."
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"Part of the success in producing events at scale is giving people the things they didn't know they need, the things they didn't know they wanted and how do you surprise them with it," Issaq explained. "How do you do things that are first and only? But comedy allows you to do that because of its ubiquitous nature and that's the true equity of it.
Clusterfest isn't the first time brands have looked to comedy in hopes of reaching new audiences. Financial institutions like AMEX have worked with spokespeople like Jerry Seinfeld and Tina Fey for years. Even soft drink companies like Mountain Dew just went into a year-long partnership with Kevin Hart to become their brand ambassador. But these outdated partnerships are still only engaging with comedic fandoms on the most basic level.
Clusterfest provides a truly unique workshop to explore out-of-the-box brand experiences that bridge the gaps between businesses and attendees. Fans are seeking truly immersive experiences that they can't get anywhere else. This is evident in the massive popularity that theme parks have witnessed with installations like Universal's The Wizarding World or the newly opened Disney Star Wars theme park. Clusterfest continues to be taking these brand experiences to the next level, we can only hope that other festivals are taking note.
Single-day and three-day general admission, VIP and Platinum tickets are on-sale now exclusively via www.clusterfest.com. Single-day admission starts at $89, single-day VIP starts at $224.50, three-day general admission starts at $219.50, three-day VIP starts at $584.50 and Platinum, which is new for 2019, is $1,250. Platinum tickets come with all the exclusive access that comes with VIP, plus much more, including unlimited french fries - seriously. For tickets, please visit: www.clusterfest.com.