By Anders Beyer
Bergen International Festival began its collaboration with ANTI Bergen in 2012 with the aim to develop and future-proof Norway's flagship in culture. Together we updated and modified the structure of the Festival’s content, its visual identity and its communication. Our ambitious plan of rebranding the biggest music, theatre and dance festival in the Nordic region continues to be a success in terms of audience diversity, box office numbers and overwhelmingly positive publicity regarding the artistic quality in both national and internal press. We are proud to have realised such a successful turnaround in collaboration with ANTI Bergen, and have been overwhelmed by the results, the recognition and the respect we have received, both at home and abroad.
Bergen International Festival (Festspillene i Bergen) presents art in all its guises from music to theatre, dance, opera and visual art. Established in 1953, the festival is one of the oldest and the largest of its kind in the Nordic countries, with around 300 events during the 15 days it lasts.
Short film of Bergen International Festival
In 2012, the administrative team together with the board of the festival initiated a new strategy plan, evaluating the festival’s function in society and Norwegian culture, its successes and weak points, with the purpose of finding innovative solutions for taking the festival to the next level – matching it with the best of European music, theatre and dance festivals.
The strategy was ambitious, and aimed to improve and enlarge the festival for the long term, but also to respond to the immediate needs of the festival in the next few years, increasing our ability to book the greatest artists, as well as making it possible to create a long term creative profile for the festival, distinguishing it from others of its kind.
The festival has annual audience-, sponsor- and market evaluation surveys, making sure the festival brings something new and unique to the table, as well as offering the most cherished artistic experiences to large audiences. Based on pre-existing experiences running the festival we wanted to create a great starting point for the development of an even more remarkable festival. One of the ambitions was to shape a total communication design – a brand identity with sustainable cost and effective and engaging design solution, that reimagined the presentation of the classical and avantgarde genres.
The strategic rebranding of Bergen International Festival was realised together with the company ANTI Bergen. Together the partners had the ambition to demonstrate how the collaboration between client and agency can flip tight constraints into worlds of opportunity. The project should demonstrate how design decisions can lead to increased public engagement, working with limited revenue, leveraging the temporality of exposure, and find open space in an increasingly crowded cultural landscape.
- Increase overall audience numbers
- Increase ticket sales
- Increase first time visitors
- Present the genres of classical and avantgarde performances in a radical and attractive new light
- Maintain strong patronage from existing attendees
- Generate a sustainable identity; flexible but consistent.
New strategy – new visual profile
With content spanning from accessible street performances through traditional classical symphonies to the avant-garde our challenge together with our partners in the design and branding company ANTI was to create a visual language that could speak for them all but still speak with one unified voice.
Music is composed of sound and silence, carefully and mathematically structured through a perfect balance of rhythm, pitch, dynamics, and timbre – it is these very elements that Bergen International Festival embodies. The city comes alive during the festival through a harmonious syncopation of different rhythms and melodies, both in the content the festival presents and in the diversity of it's audiences. We've created a unique and strong visual profile that symbolizes the true essence of music and performance.
Defining a strict mathematical framework for the logo allowed us to use the perfect square as a starting point for a rhythmic pattern. The pattern – created by applying the rule of four to the logo – provides us with the beat. The coloured bars; the music or human creativity/interpretation. Together they open up for endless possibilities while never loosing brand recognition.
Results from rebranding the festival:
- Exceeding all objectives and expectations, and even generated wider benefits, the rebrand has contributed to a 57% rise in ticket sales and 59% rise in sponsorship and private donations, resulting in a 32% rise in total income (2012-2016).
- The first year of the new festival identity saw a 100% increase of first time visitors and resulted in the highest volume of ticket sales in the recorded history of the festival. Increasing year on year, with public attendants rising from 60 026 in 2012 to 84 494 in 2013; at the same time the total number of visitors to the theatre in Bergen was falling by 8,4%.
- From 2012 to 2016 the number of visitors grew to over 125 000 — an increase of 108%. Resulting in a 27% efficient use of public funds in the first year alone — evidence of the public value of design investment.
- In 2014, for the strategic rebranding of Bergen International Festival, the partners were awarded the Cannes Lions Grand Prix in Design, the Grand Prix in Brand Identity at Red Dot, 2 Golds in ADC Global, Gold Pencil in One Show and Best of Show at the European Design Awards. In addition to this the partners received Merket for God Design, Gold at Gullblyanten and 2 Golds at Visuelt.
- After several years of brand activity and analysis, ANTI Bergen and Bergen International Festival has also been awarded the STELLA award and the standalone Hegnar Media Business Prize for Creative Effectiveness. Latest achievement: February 2018 the partners won the Bronze in the Design Effectiveness Awards in London, for the brand identity and communication design for Bergen International Festival.
2016 became the most successful year in the history of the festival with regards to ticket sales and audience outreach and with great reviews in both national and international media. In 2016 the festival enjoyed the fruits of the strategic turnaround with new design, change of headquarters and a greater programme variety.
An external evaluation of national and international media coverage during the years 2015–2017 made by Meltwater, also showed that the 2016 festival got the best score by critics both on social media and in print media. During a period of 4 years from the launch of the new brand identity, the total number of festival attendees rose to a phenomenal 108%, and total income rose by 32%. In a time where large corporate sponsors were cutting down, the festival’s sponsorship income rose by a phenomenal 59%. The brand has also consistently generated stronger results year on year. Requiring no extra investment per-audience member annually. Resulting in a 27% efficient use of public funds in the first year alone — evidence of the public value of design investment.
The Bergen International Festival defined the following to aspire to in the period 2014–2016:
“Together with our collaborators we aim to create a many-splendoured festival – in the truest sense of the word – impacting the lives of our audiences in unique and unmissable ways, both in arenas in the city centre, the composer homes and elsewhere in the region. The Bergen International Festival is an event that artists from all over the world want to take part in, and they are attracted to the playfulness, creativity and tantalizing energy of the festival. The Bergen International Festival is synonymous with high energy and a zest for life and art. Like an explorer it is unafraid, yet, at the same time approachable.
“The Bergen International Festival leaves a mark on the city and its inhabitants, disturbing their everyday schedules – bringing instead a menu to pick from of dreams, adventures and a space to breathe in new air and think new thoughts. This may lead to unexpected alterations in how we see and perceive the world.
“The festival programme has a youthful profile, and speaks to a variety of people. The presentation, communication and packaging is aimed at our modern audience, and there are new gates and portals through which the programme can be accessed and experienced. Our core audience is able to seek and find the things they appreciate in the festival’s traditional core profile, yet, they will at the same time be given a chance to explore the unknown. More and more people will learn to appreciate the classical culture heritage, and both the ”hip”, the stranger and the family will start to actively find their place as parts of the festival. The Bergen International Festival inspires a playful way of life – performing and expressing the best in the human being – the Homo Ludens.”
Changes in societal structure
In the course of outlining the new festival strategy we discussed the current trend of changing patterns in both the areas of consumption and societal structure, providing great opportunities for the festival in the years to come. The Bergen International Festival must therefore be a part of these changes, taking advantage of the opportunities these changes bring with them, so that in the years to come the festivals will have even more ambitious and innovative profiles, to the delight of all.
The new strategy is thoroughly backed by research in the field. Current research clearly indicates that culture is a competitive advantage not only for a city, but for the surrounding region as a whole. This is documented in a report made by Comedia for the Liverpool City Council and the Core Cities Group: ”Harnessing and exploiting the power of culture for competitive advantage”.
The world is changing and nowhere more so than the cities, where new technologies, business models, lifestyles and attitudes are combining to rewrite the rulebook on what distinguishes success from mediocrity. Once regarded as being ephemeral, attractiveness and drawing power are now key determinants in placing cities in a new hierarchy of urban competitiveness.
More and more, a broad and high-quality offer of cultural facilities, industries, experiences, images and lifestyles is a basic prerequisite of a place’s ‘membership of the club’ of internationally successful cities. There is no simple cause and effect relationship between culture and investment but there is compelling evidence that investors favour and remain loyal to those cities who take their culture seriously, and are repelled by those who do not.
The most valuable resource a city can attract and amass is not cash but talent and one of the key locational factors for talented ‘creative class’ is a rich, diverse, distinctive and urbane culture. For growing cities, the importance of things that make a community smart and vibrant: universities and colleges, arts and culture, job opportunities, socialization opportunities and intellectual exchanges.
The distinctive city
It is important for the Bergen International Festival to be aware of other opportunities that arise with the changes currently taking place on the governmental level, and position the festival as a national lighthouse, displaying the best of Norwegian and international arts and culture, as well as finding new and inspiring collaborators, willing to take part in the creation of the new.
Luckily, the timing for a renewed festival couldn’t be better. Political changes have demanded more out-spoken ambitions, and in 2013 the festival was already reaching out to a larger number of people than ever before, creating increased attention from the press as well as engaging more artists and volunteers than ever before. In addition, global trends in urban living is rapidly changing, and the value of art and culture is increasing, as the results in the following study from “European urban and regional studies. City festivals: creativity and control in staged urban experiences” clearly indicates.
The main findings are that:
- In a global market, cities aim to develop a distinct profile to attract mobile consumers.
- One means increasingly used to attain distinction is to brand the city as experience space.
- In particular, the urban festival has become a popular organizational form for creating experience spaces and for marketing cities.
- Festivals are often strategically conceived with the purpose of promoting a ‘distinctive city’.
- Festivals as potentially transformative practices, helping re-imagine urban space and reshape urban identity.
Interfering with the audience in new ways, through new technology or unexpected and appropriate merchandising has always been our backbone.
Now we can start playing with our identity and with the graphic elements and in future festivals explore new possibilities within VR and AR thus creating a new kind of interference with the audience.
Playing with the logo / using new technology: Murmuration