VF Meets The Strongbow Rooms Man

You've seen the pointy yellow tents at the festivals and been approached by those characters with cider tanks on their backs. Now meet the bloke in charge of all this tomfoolery: Hugh Robertson...

[r-zone1]This year, more then ever, the black and yellow branding of the nation’s favourite brand of fermented apples has been prominent in one muddy field after another- appearing at Homelands, Global Gathering, this weekend’s V Festival and next weekend’s Creamfield among others.

Virtual Festivals: Why does a major brewery insist on giving endless amounts of their cider away to sozzled festival goers and where do you fit into the crazy scheme?

Hugh Robertson: I’m one of the directors of RPM which is a ‘brand experience’ agency. That involves taking a brand and a consumer and bringing the two together. My primary role is involved in all the music negotiations that we undertake for a number of our brands.

Where did the concept of the Stongbow Rooms begin?

That began by looking at the brand and understanding where its challenges lay and who the consumers where; who it needed to interact with. We identified the consumers as being festival-goers and then worked with the promoters to come up with, what we felt, was an arena that people would wish to spend some time in and then hopefully, feel better about Strongbow.

Why change from the old ‘Loafing Lounge’ tent?

[l-zone4]It’s important that we have a consistent message. ‘Loafing juice’ was where the brand was previously. We then felt that taking it into a festival environment was going to be fairly challenging but we came up with the Lounge to embody the brand’s offering. The Rooms were then building on the fact that the Lounge had been in existence for three years and we needed to continually evolve our offering without losing the heritage that we’d built up. The Rooms came about to increase interaction between ourselves and the consumers. Also, we wanted to up the quality of the music offering, ensure that we had something to differentiate us from the other brands – in terms of the football tables for example.

Just how successful have festivals been for Strongbow?

[r-zone2]It’s been very successful in that the Strongbow Rooms is a feature that most people will come and visit at festivals. I think that’s what really exciting is that we are able to offer something that previously, most people may not have associated with Strongbow and we’re there for the longer term. We want to build relationships with our consumers and continue to offer something that’s relevant to them. And at the time of need, hopefully Strongbow is as refreshing as it can be – during the summer months and especially at a festival!

What about the cider back-packs? Why did you decide to use those?

That’s one of the key challenges. One, we need to make people feel better towards the brand. Secondly, Strongbow, as a product, has a unique offering. The real key for our success is that we need people to taste it again. A lot of people don’t realise just how pleasant a drink it is.

Are you having to battle with the images of kids and winos drinking it in a local park?

Yeah, we’re obviously dealing with a certain degree of baggage! I think that the nice thing of using soemthing like a rocket pack is that it enables us to take the product out to the consumer rather tham having to come across to the Rooms and find us. We can actually seek them out at what is potentially a good point of refreshment – as they’re arriving at a festival.

Are their strict limits to how much staff are allowed to give people?

[l-zone3]We understand that there are other brands involved at these events and we’re keen to give people a taster. What we don’t want to do is just give away beer for free! It’s probably the best sample they’ll have – at a very cold temperature, served at when they’re needed greatest and always doing it to encourage them to go onto the bar to purchase it as well as to experience what more we can offer in the Rooms.

But aren’t drinks excessively over-priced at festivals?

If you draw the analogy of buying a pint at a bar and buying a pint at a festival, the latter has a contribution to cover overheads. I don’t have an issue with it. The price of a pint is commensurate with putting on a great event. I have an issue when you’re paying for under-valued, disappointing products such as food, if it’s not up to scratch, or a warm pint of beer. As a sponsor I would love to say, “Come and buy a pint of Strongbow for £1.50 and under-cut everybody else but obviously there are certain contractual obligations that we have to observe.

Have the promoters been concerned about too much corporate branding, at all?

[r-zone5]Through the sponsor’s involvement with promoters and their event, there is increased monies available to ensure that the artists secured for that event are of a better calibre. I think that if the sponsor who is involved in the event ensures that they’re adding value and not simply preaching a corporate message to the consumers then I think it’s a real win for those attending the festivals.

The Strongbow Rooms is concluding its hectic festival schedule for the year at Creamfields.