Join the party

Quebec festival sponsorships can help brands achieve insider status more quickly than ads alone - but they require a little style and sensitivity

If you think about it, it’s actually pretty remarkable that anything gets done in Quebec.

From Gatineau’s Wonders of Sand festival each July, to the September Beef Festival in Inverness, to the more familiar Montreal International Jazz Festival, Quebec is rife with hundreds of calendar-clogging events.

And while some surmise that this plethora of parties is a way for Quebecers to come together and preserve their unique heritage, it simply can’t be denied that the people of PQ are festival-crazy. Which is why more and more national brands are seeing this long list of events as a way of making meaningful contact with Quebec consumers.

Pascale Chassé, VP and director of Montreal’s Fusion Marketing (part of the Cossette group), certainly views them as offering such an opportunity. ‘For Canadian advertisers,’ she says, events ‘are a very good way to get closer to the Quebec target – to be a part of the party.’

The obligation to activate

For those wanting to make inroads into La Belle Province, says Chassé, passivity is not an option: ‘There are so many events, so many sponsorships, it is very difficult to have any sort of impact. You have the obligation to activate your sponsorship. That means communicating your association, activating it on-site and giving participants added value.

‘Sponsorship is riskier than advertising, but I think if you want to build a really strong relationship with Quebecers, it is a better direction that just advertising.’

Fusion client General Motors of Canada understood that risk when it took a premium sponsorship position at the Montreal International Jazz Festival in 2000, shortly after DuMaurier was required to bow out thanks to new government restrictions on tobacco sponsorship. The festival attracts almost two million people each year, and the majority of those come from within the province. So it’s a prime opportunity for GM to make inroads in Quebec.

One of the ways that GM does this is by being part of the ‘Friends of the Festival’ program. For $10, attendees can buy a card that gets them free merchandise and access to the Friends of the Festival tent (sponsored by GM), where they can get bottles of water, chair massages and sun screen. From there, it’s off to any of the free concerts GM sponsors – each branded with one of the car manufacturer’s sub-brands, like Chevy and Pontiac, depending on the demo the music targets.

Clue in to cultural nuances

Max Lenderman, partner and VP of creative at Gearwerx in Montreal, says brands that take a thoughtful approach to events and offer Quebec consumers real value will be accepted. ‘You have to tread a very fine line in terms of how you come into it,’ he notes. ‘You don’t want to come in guns a-blazing, carpetbagging, the whole thing…. You want to be a lot more tactical and strategic.

‘I think the bottom line is that you have to know how to speak their language – not just literally but figuratively as well. Because, if you don’t, the potential for backlash is great.’

Lenderman says brands need to be clued into cultural nuances to avoid being seen as interlopers. He stresses that they should take a look at an event’s previous sponsors and see what worked and what didn’t, because if an event has a track record in a category it will help alleviate some of the consumer surprise factor. He also suggests that non-Quebec companies consider partnering with local hosts – radio stations, charities, theatres, etc. – as a way of bringing them into the market with some borrowed legitimacy.

But most of all, Lenderman cautions against the all-or-nothing approach. ‘Be involved in smaller things before blowing yourself out on one big thing,’ he says. ‘Test the waters. Have your logo on a couple of posters for smaller events and for smaller types of marketing programs.’

A little local assistance can help you avoid the pitfalls, he adds. ‘If your agency has a sister agency in Quebec, fully leverage it. You’re better off doing that and spending on some upfront costs than trying to manage something that you don’t understand from 400 miles away.’

The good news is that with all that sponsorship action, Fusion’s Chassé says event organizers have become schooled in how best to work with host brands. ‘They are not salespeople,’ she observes. ‘They are sponsorship specialists. They like it when you activate your sponsorship. They want you to be a partner…. Sometimes, when we have an event outside of Montreal or outside of Quebec, they just want your money and they will put your logo on their posters, and they don’t want you on-site. Here it is completely different.’

Look for a natural fit

Proof of that sponsorship savvy can be seen in Volkswagen’s relationship with Mont Tremblant. Last summer, VW renewed its five-year sponsorship package for an additional three years. Initially, VW wanted a location that was open all four seasons and that attracted a demo friendly to its brand. But while Tremblant offered a gold sponsorship package that included 12-month visibility at the resort and a presence at a few regular events like the Canada and Quebec Mountain Bike Cup and the Blues Festival, VW wanted more.

So Tremblant offered what Palm Publicité’s Montreal-based VW account director Norman Chiasson calls ‘gold-plus.’ Part of that deal saw the carmaker extending its visibility by putting branding on the lifts that take people from the parking lots, over the village, to the foot of the ski hills.

And when VW began to think it should also be targeting a younger crowd at Tremblant, it upped its package to include a sponsorship of the extreme sports and music event, the Spin Symposium (March 26 to April 4). VW is hosting the Volkswagen Skiercross for the first time at this year’s Symposium, offering a VW GTI to the winner in order to attract the best competitors.

Chiasson says those partnering with events in Quebec should stick to properties that are a natural fit (VW has always been adventure and ski friendly – consider the ‘K2′ editions of some of their models), and adds that there can often be strength in numbers.

‘Sometimes you need some partners to build credibility. We also do a tour of the summits – a tour of most of the ski resorts in Quebec. To build credibility with skiers, we associated with [international ski manufacturer] Rossignol…. If the fit is natural, I think people will find it credible.’

Buckets of cash not required

Also making its first appearance at the Spin Symposium this year is Nokia. Nokia took out a smaller sponsorship package that includes a 10×20 tent on-site. While it will be used to house the latest Nokia models friendly to younger demos, it has also become the centre of operations for a Tremblant-wide venture. Part of those efforts will see teams roaming the mountain, taking pictures of people with Nokia phones and inviting them back to the tent.

It will also be a hub for the Nokia Alert Network, which will allow cellphone users from around the province to text in the word ‘Nokia’ and receive up-to-the-minute results from the hill and get special invites to parties and concerts.

Notes Toronto-based marketing communications manager Mary Lynden of the brand’s first Tremblant foray, Nokia is looking for ‘any way that we can leverage the sponsorship and find unique ways to interact with consumers directly.’

The cellco will wait to see the results of its sponsorship before committing to other events in the province, but either way, the Nokia Network will generate a list of useful leads for future efforts.

Montreal’s P2P Proximity Marketing founder Pierre Parent, who worked with Nokia to develop the event, says the big lesson in this case is you don’t always need buckets of cash. Nokia didn’t have to commit a lot of money to get the space, and the brand was still able to take on the cachet of the entire event by thinking outside the box – or in this case, the tent.

‘Somewhere down the line is the creativity,’ he notes. ‘You can be a small sponsor, but you can make big waves if you are very creative, if you work it all the way through and see all the opportunities that exist.’

Which to choose?

A quick guide to some of Quebec’s most popular festivals

Quebec has thousands of local festivals, but you have to start somewhere. Here are a few recommended by the locals, along with a brief description of the demographic each attracts.

Le Mondial de la Bière

Date: June 2-6, 2004

Contact: www.festivalmondialbiere.qc.ca

Description: Downtown Montreal and 250 brands of beer. Need we say more?

Demo: Adults 18+

Canadian Grand Prix

Date: June 11-13, 2004

Contact: www.grandprix.ca

Description: F1 racing has been a part of Montreal since 1967. But be careful at crosswalks.

Demo: All, although cost means it tends to be more of an international than a Quebec-focused event.

Montreal International Jazz Festival

Date: June 30-July 11, 2004

Contact: www.montrealjazzfest.com

Description: The jazz fest celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, so look for the hundreds of concerts to be supported by a wide array of CDs and DVDs.

Demo: All, although event skews adult.

Just for Laughs

Date: July 15-25, 2004

Contact: www.hahaha.com

Description: Last year’s event brought in more than 2,000 artists from 19 countries, and played to more than 1.7 million spectators.

Demo: All, skews adult.

Nuits d’Afrique

Date: July 15-25, 2004

Contact: www.festivalnuitsdafrique.com

Description: Music and art from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America.

Demo: Skews adult, although the fest has begun including more hip hop to pull in younger demos.

Les FrancoFolies de Montréal

Date: July 29-Aug. 7, 2004

Contact: www.francofolies.com

Description: This 10-day event brings the best of French and international music to Montreal, both in indoor and outdoor venues.

Demo: All, just find the right artist.

Festival des Films du Monde/World Film Festival

Date: Aug. 26-Sept. 6, 2004

Contact: www.ffm-montreal.org

Description: Recognized internationally as one of the premiere film events on the calendar.

Demo: All, although cost means it tends to be more of an international than a Quebec-focused event.

Pop Montreal

Date: Sept. 29-Oct. 2, 2004

Contact: www.popmontreal.com

Description: An indie music fest along the lines of South by Southwest in Texas.

Demo: Teen/young adult, skews Anglo.

La fête des Neiges

Date: Jan. 22-Feb. 6, 2005

Contact: www.fetedesneiges.com

Description: This event brought more than 150,000 visitors to Montreal on three successive weekends to tackle everything from dog sledding to ice sculptures.

Demo: Family.