How Gen Z is redefining the festival scene, and what this means for brand experience.

Festival Scene Brand Experience

Hayley James – Associate Director – Sense

In today’s hyperconnected world, young people are constantly seeking meaningful real life experiences where they can show up as their authentic self – and there is nowhere more fitting than music festivals. As the festival scene evolves, we are seeing the festival scene brand experience change with it. 

The ever-changing festival scene

After a brief hiatus during the quiet times of the pandemic, music festivals are bigger, more elaborate and more popular than ever before. The Music Events market is booming globally, with the total attendance at UK festivals in 2023 hitting 6.5 million, which is set to increase to over 8 million attendees by 2027. Nielsen reports that approximately 32 million people in the United States attend at least one festival each year, with nearly half being Millennials.

These multi-day events cram hundreds of artists and thousands of attendees into an all-consuming escapist experience. From the culture to the fashion to the camaraderie, big music festivals are the events to see – and be seen. In the UK it’s, “Have you been to Glastonbury?” and in the States it’s, “Have you been to Coachella?” The impermanence of the music festival signifies how Millennials and Gen Z value experiences over things – which provides an exciting opportunity for brands.

Entering a new era of festivals

For many of us older Brits, downing pints of warm cider in a muddy field, donning a poncho while bopping around to our favourite band, is considered a rite of passage. Traditionally (and perhaps stereotypically), festivals have been the place for young people to embrace their freedom and party with friends, the latter often fuelled by alcohol and drugs. However, the Gen Z crowd, dubbed ‘generation sensible’ are redefining festival culture, moving away from the party lifestyle that previous generations embraced.

Voxburner‘s research shows that 27% of Gen Z from the UK and just 17% from the US plan on consuming alcohol and/or drugs at a festival this year, whilst a significant 60% (65% from the US) responded with a firm ‘no’. In fact, only 5% of Gen Z are most excited about drinking when they get to a festival. Whether it’s due to their health-conscious attitudes, advocacy for mental health awareness, or simple fear for their safety, Gen Z are less inclined to take part in drinking culture. This is forcing organisers and sponsor brands to rethink how they engage with and entice festival goers.

So, what are the main reasons for Millennials and Gen Z to attend festivals in the coming year – and how can brands shape their experiences to fit these needs?

Festival Scene Brand Experience

Opportunity for self-expression and experimentation

According to a recent study, Nearly ¾ of young people say that they attend events to express who they are – and to share their experience with the world.

The era where everybody strives to look the same to ‘fit in’ is (thankfully) in the past. This audience is much more fluid with their identity. As a result, there is a need to express one’s “real” self, as well as a desire to to explore their alter ego – and where better to do that than at a festival?

Providing festival brand experience opportunities for self-expression and exploration in a safe space should be considered. Incorporating thoughtful moments of personalisation will help the audience to feel seen. It could give them a chance to let go and be creative, as will a sense of deep immersion into otherworldliness.

Given the fact that nearly half of Millennials (48%) say they attend events so they have something to share on their social channels, providing them with the tools and inspiration to act as creators on their social platforms is a no brainer.

But remember, Gen Z are especially good at sniffing out inauthenticity. So, don’t risk having your experience written off as “cringe”, with overt branding and staged photo ops at every turn. This audience is suspicious when it comes to experiential marketing, especially in festival environments, so being genuine by adding real value is key to success.

Festival Scene Brand Experience

Create deep connections with others using brand experience

When asked the question in a recent survey, ‘What aspect of attending a festival excites you the most?’, the prevailing response across both the UK and US Gen Z audience was ‘hanging out with friends’, with 43% and 50% respectively choosing this option. Not only does this change the way they approach festivals, but it also diversifies the types of festivals they are interested in attending.

Therefore, thinking about how to create a festival scene brand experience must offer an opportunity for people to hang out with friends and meet new people. How can you make your space ‘the’ destination, bringing to life your brand values in an ownable way, creating dwell time so people stick around? How can you facilitate deeper conversation and connections, that go beyond just frivolous small talk? How can you ensure that your experience is truly inclusive and accessible for all, to avoid any danger of cancel culture. How can you bring in values of sustainability?

Festival Scene Brand Experience

Less hedonism, more namaste

Festivals have traditionally been a mecca for music and hedonism, but a new focus on wellbeing experiences is emerging as young people swap drink and drugs for mindfulness and yoga. This sober movement is seeing a shift towards festival activities that make people feel good, whether that’s a simple pilates class and cup of chai tea, or more interesting things, like chanting circles, cacao ceremonies and breathwork.

Obviously, some of this is pretty niche and won’t be the right space for all brands to play in. But being conscious of the fact that a number of festival goers will be looking to connect and recalibrate in a fast-paced technological world is key.

91% of Gen Z are stressed, 23% to unmanageable levels. A focus on mental wellbeing is of paramount importance. If the last generation was about adrenaline and big energy, this one is about an energetic serenity, so bear this in mind when imagining your festival experiences.

VIP treatment

According to a survey conducted by Eventbrite with 1,000 music festival attendees, one-third of those who purchased VIP tickets indicated that the absence of a VIP package significantly influences their decision to attend or not. This insight is valuable not only for festival organisers but also for brands aiming to make an impact among festival-goers.

For example, giving existing customers or competition winners special treatment is a no brainer, whether that’s speedy admission to the experience, behind-the-scenes access, a chance to meet artists, premium giveaways and VIP-only zones. This will not only make their festival experience one to remember (with your brand front and centre), but will also play into the demand for social currency, giving guests something to shout about on their socials.

Looking ahead

As we’ve known all along, attending music festivals is about more than just the music. It’s the atmosphere, the culture, the people; it’s about being immersed among thousands of like-minded fans and experiencing something you can’t download or stream.

Despite the rise in popularity, many of the Gen Z crowd cite the cost of a festival ticket as a reason not to attend, which is likely a contributing factor to the snail-like pace of Coachella sales this year. Therefore, brands should aim to offer real value for those that do attend, enriching the festival experience with unique money-can’t-buy experiences that will help them stand out from the crowd. 

As demand for music festivals continue to grow, so does the need for a memorable, tangible moment that is rooted in self-expression, connectedness, wellbeing and exclusivity. Here’s to a fun summer ahead.

If you are looking to create a festival experience of your own, let’s make some time to chat. A conversation could open up a world of possibility.


5th Floor Century House
100 Oxford Street

New York

243 E 14th St,
#2, New York,
NY, 10003

Discover our latest guides to help brighten your brand experience strategy or amplify your shopper marketing moves. Get them here at The Futures Lab.


5th Floor Century House
100 Oxford Street

New York

243 E 14th
#2 C/O SQ
New York
NY 10003


Discover our latest guides to help brighten your brand experience strategy here at The Future Lab

Connect with us


Whether it be Festivals, Trade Shows, PR Stunts, Installations or Pop Ups to name a few, we believe brand experiences are one of the most powerful forms of marketing to impact consumer perception and attitude towards a brand. They can create real behaviour change when born out of a deep consumer insight allied to a compelling idea. And it’s these fundamentals we look to get right whatever the live, virtual or hybrid task in hand.


Sampling is all too often perceived as an unsophisticated, somewhat ‘blunt’ marketing tool. Over the last 16 years Sense has pioneered a set of strategic principles which underpin our unique approach to sampling and which are highly measurable from both an ROI and consumer behaviour change perspective. We will happily guide brands through the myriad of sampling channels and products available so whether it’s mass face to face sampling, in offices, digitally, at home or just a strategic framework that you are after, we can provide a blend of tactics to fulfil both brand and sales objectives.


With many clients now focused on activating in channels more closely associated with a sale, our heavyweight retail experience closes the loop on a typical shopper journey by encompassing the moment of truth in store. Be it prize promotions, shopper toolkits, key visual creation, path-to-purchase communications, category strategy, B2B campaigns or Amazon optimisation, our goal is to create forward-thinking retail experiences that deliver demonstrable brand value. We aim to make ‘retail fail’ a thing of the past for ambitious brands looking to thrive is an ever-competitive landscape and believe our streamlined team is perfectly placed to do this.


Knowing what will keep a brand bright, exciting, and vital means we need to keep one step ahead of the curve. Our thought leadership hub, The Futures Lab, helps us to understand the marketing trends of tomorrow. It’s also the origin of strategies and methodologies which have created over 65 award-winning campaigns. 


Creativity is nothing without results. And we know that commissioning bold concepts, capable of changing minds, requires reassurance that it’s the right thing to do. 

Data, insights, and research precedes every campaign we do, and our proprietary measurement tool, EMR, gives us a decade of campaign performance metrics. Which is why we’re proud to have been recognised as industry-leading by brands like The Economist, Coca-Cola, and Molson Coors. 


We believe brand experience is inherently more varied than other forms of marketing. No formula, no template, no cookie-cutter approach – and often no precedent. 

That’s why, Sense places trust at the heart of its business – grounded in teamwork between our people and yours. Our processes are efficient, our senior team stay involved and our partnership mentality had helped us sustain powerful client relationships, some lasting over 10 years.