"Would you like to bedazzle a bandana" was just about the first thing I heard as I made my way through the grounds at this year's Fun Fun Fun Fest (FFF), Austin's darling of an alternative Music/Comedy festival that happens annually in the Fall. The woman who beckoned me over stood in front of a Smart Car booth and gestured inside to a tent that also housed DJ turntables, an old-school arcade Pac-Man and a giant Jenga set up, which is oddly typical of the scene at Fun Fun. In fact, this amusing jumble of activities is emblematic of the unexpected slant on marketing that has been central to the festival's growth and success.
According to James Moody, head of Transmission Entertainment and Guerilla Suit Marketing, this year was the best yet in terms of attendance and tickets sold. Acts like Slayer, Sarah Silverman and Snoop Dogg headlined the event geared towards a niche crowd that's generally passionate about independent music, cross-genre legendary talent and discovering acts before they potentially hit the mainstream circuit.
To engage this particular group of devotees and stay on budget, FFF bypassed the big media buys and takes a tirelessly creative, thoughtful, non-traditional and lower-cost approach to promoting the festival. They built momentum through special events like late night bingo games for lineup announcements and Heavy Metal/Rock yoga classes at the Mohawk featuring festival artists and complemented it with a unique social media personality that sounded like anything but a marketing robot.
The unconventional experience continued on the ground at the fest where one could find beer gardens, interactive graffiti walls, BMX ramps, haircuts, a fresh juice bar, watermelon agua fresca cocktails and a selection of food options specially curated by notorious Austin BBQ Grinch/savant, J. Mueller. Sponsors this year were as random as the tactics, many collaborating with the FFF marketing team on activations that made sense for this particular festival and crowd--such as a bandana bedazzling station. Twinkies, for example, worked with the festival's to resurrect Twinkie the Kid, the quirky 1970's rendering of the cowboy cake, and placed him in oddball places around the park, like smack in the middle of the BMX ramp. There was a Twinkies mascot giving massages throughout the weekend. The treats were launched from the famous taco cannon, highlighting their taco-like workable form and aerodynamics. They organically became a go-to topic of conversation during stand-up routines at the Comedy stage and, on top of all that, it didn't hurt that free Twinkies were at the ready to soak up some serious beer munchies.
Perhaps most impressive was the FFF partnership with Shiner Beer, where together they produced a special edition beer can just for the festival. "It was a perfect storm where they had always liked what we do and vice versa," said Moody. "They wanted to build everything custom the ground up and they wanted to feel like it made sense at the fest . . . which is what we always wanted, too. " With a multi-year deal and a Herculean effort, 2000 cases of the can were born showcasing an eagle on one side, a rattlesnake on the other and Shiner/ Fun Fun Fun logos emblazoned across the top.
"Day one was insane. If I did something weird, I would like to apologize. I was festing. Like a boss" was the first push notification from the festival app on the morning of day two and weeks later I'm still laughing about it; I also find it so easy to be charmed by a brand that doesn't take itself too seriously. Individually these efforts sound like small measures but, with the casual brand voice and surprisingly sophisticated strategy, they conjure the party that inspires FFF fan tattoos and the camaraderie that leads to magical equal opportunity crowd surfing moments.