An Interview with Visa at Boardmasters

Photo credit: Alex Rawson

This year’s partnership between Visa and Boardmasters marked a significant first for each party. For the former, the collaboration amounted to its debut on the UK festival circuit, and for the latter: the first time in the event’s 36-year history that it boasted 100% card acceptance across its sites. With the rollout of Wi-Fi throughout the entire festival as part of the sponsorship agreement, Visa and its global payments partner Square equipped merchants with 350 mobile point-of-sale terminals.

In addition to the core card acceptance aspect, the remainder of the brand’s activity was characteristically sprawling and well executed for an event organised by Vision Nine, and Insights was on-site at Boardmasters to speak with Suzy Brown – Sponsorship Director for Visa in Europe – about the partnership.

Festival Insights: Would you say that Visa is a relative newcomer to the festival scene or has it been involved in festivals further afield?

Suzy Brown: I think that’s fair to say, but we have sponsored FIB Benicassim in Spain for the past two years. This is our first UK festival collaboration, but what we’re really interested in is the age demographic at live events and engaging with the millennial generation.

Visa does a lot of sports sponsorship already, so diversifying into music festivals feels like a natural next step.

FI: What was it about Boardmasters that attracted you over all others?

SB: Well the festival is a good size for us and Vision Nine are super open, positive and experienced when it comes to collaborating with brands.

I think around 90 – 95% of Boardmasters attendees are under 30 as well, which as I said before is the demographic we’re really focused on engaging with. The stats suggest that by 2020, 70% of the UK workforce will be made up of millennials, and so it’s integral for us to have a strong relationship with them.

FI: What was it about Boardmasters’ infrastructure in the past that was crying out for a transformation on the payments front?

SB: When you look at festivals overall they’re typically cash dominant. 95% of Boardmasters’ transactions last year were cash based, with the remaining 5% of payments made on card.

There’s been a huge shift in trajectory recently, however, and when you look at face-to-face transactions under £30 in the UK today almost half of them are contactless payments. Therefore a fundamental aspect of this partnership was to provide festival-goers with the opportunity to pay in the same way they would elsewhere.

FI: Considering that this is Visa’s first festival partnership in the UK, it seems to have a massive scope. Aside from the contactless payments, could you give us a rundown of what else you’re doing around the site?

SB: Sure. Firstly, we’re really excited about our partnership with Surfers Against Sewage, one of the most active and successful environmental charities within the UK – which is especially pertinent considering we’re here on the Cornish coastline.

We also have water activation points dotted around the festival, where attendees can buy reusable aluminium bottles that are co-branded. The bottles are dispensed from a contactless vending machine, showcasing our technology, and one in every hundred is a gold one that entitles the recipient to various prizes. Some of these include a trip to the on-site eco spa, various bits of Boardmasters merchandise, and an invitation up to the Visa viewing deck near the main stage.

The bottles cost £2, and all of the proceeds go towards funding the SAS cause. Also on the stand is a water filling station, with various others dotted around the festival site. Interestingly, this element of the activation has been busy all weekend, demonstrating that people really do respond well to environmentally friendly initiatives at festivals.

FI: I imagine most fledgling partnerships weather their fair share of unforeseen challenges in the first year or so. Did Visa encounter any in this one?

SB: It’s actually been relatively smooth, considering it’s the first year like you said. Teaming up with Square has also proven very positive. Both Vision Nine and Square spent time speaking to the on-site merchants about the benefits of accepting cards, and the majority were very receptive.

Also, considering that many small businesses here are serving food, the transaction of contactless payment offers less hassle, cutting down time on payments and essentially increasing the flow of custom.

FI: What do you think makes a good festival activation?

SB: First and foremost it should be relevant and beneficial to the event. I think we achieved that, at least in part, with the contactless water bottle vending machines and the contributions to the SAS’ cause.

When you do any kind of activation you have to think about whether it’s relevant to the audience and if it can add value to their experience. We also try to think about what festival-goers do over the weekend in the same manner that you might think about a sporting event. We’ve definitely tried to think about this aspect, doing research and working closely with the Vision Nine team.

FI: Can you tell us anything about this research process and any insights you gleaned from it regarding consumers’ priorities or values?

SB: The most interesting aspect of our research regarded festival-goers’ attitudes to money, and how much they worry whether they brought the right amount of cash (or not enough), losing their money, or even if the ATM would be working. All of these issues surrounding physical money were more a cause for concern than the British weather or even the state of the festival toilets, believe it or not.

This gave us a clear indication that the Visa partnership should primarily offer a smooth payment process, providing added convenience and guaranteeing increased financial security and peace of mind for festival-goers.

Vision Nine