Party online: Adapting festivalistion to a virtual audience
Tay Ling
General Manager, TBA Hong Kong

Festivalisation can give events an entertaining edge that will not only attract attendees, but enable them to enjoy engaging with a brand or message. The events become more personal and memorable because attendees’ interactions result from their own choices and preferences.

The effectiveness of festivalisation is obvious. But with in-person events often considered off-limits due to the pandemic, is it even relevant? Is it possible to take the concept online while still achieving a high level of audience engagement?

We think the answers are ‘yes’ and ‘yes’—especially if you follow these tips for creating festivalised success in the virtual realm.

1. Use online social features to cultivate a sense of intimacy

In any virtual event, your audience is just one easy click away from leaving the ‘venue’. That’s why it’s important for planners to quickly establish a close connection with the audience, and maintain that connection—even intensify it—for the duration. Networking activities built into the programme can be very effective in achieving this form of intimacy. K-pop group BTS’s ‘MAP OF THE SOUL ON:E’ concert in October 2020 was a spectacular example of how it works. Livestreamed on a bespoke platform, the show engaged fans with features like a live chat service, a stage with massive screens displaying hundreds of audience members watching at home, and digital versions of the band’s official glowsticks and placards. As well as breaking attendance records—nearly a million tickets were sold in 191 countries or regions—the concert garnered more than 100 million ‘ARMY Bomb’ reactions on the first day alone.

The takeaway for marketers and event planners is that consumers will pay for online experiences. But what kind? Ones that are not only entertaining, but which allow them to interact and see others interacting; to experience together.

Even before COVID-19, online formats were being explored as a means to bring more fans into live experiences, such as by livestreaming concerts at cinemas in different countries. Beyond LIVE’s streamed offline concerts, for example, gained a huge pre-COVID following of customers from around the globe, most of whom would not be able to attend shows in person.

Another example, ‘Hydeout: The Prelude’, offers yet another demonstration of how social interactive features both personalise and engage online attendees. Organized by Hyde N Seek Entertainment and with Pico acting as official consultant and digital builder, the event features performances by more than 40 international artists, with many offered on-demand. Its social interactive features include not only games and chatrooms, but customised avatars that allow audience members to interact in imaginary worlds.

What all these recent successes show is that online events can offer things that in-person events don’t: the possibility to expand the social environment and engagement level far beyond the confines of a venue. It can make ‘festivalised’ online and hybrid events potent sales tools.

2. Use virtual tools such as AR and XR to enhance the experience

Virtual and hybrid events are not easier to organize than their purely in-person counterparts. As well as on-site event management, they require a variety of well-judged camera arrangements, plus reliable livestreaming and virtual networking. To pull it off successfully, technology must be your friend. Looking again at ‘MAP OF THE SOUL ON:E’, audience members were able to choose 4K or HD resolution, switch between six camera views, and watch delayed-stream versions of each concert if they missed the live broadcast. The show even used augmented reality (AR) and extended reality (XR) technology to create amazing dynamic sceneries and directly enhance performances by giving singers a halo of stars and planets.

Before you get carried away, remember that just because a technology does something spectacular, it might not be suitable for your purposes. Choose wisely, taking the ROI and target audience into consideration.

3. Think out of the box when it comes to hybrid events

The hot topic right now may be the transformation of online events, but in the long-term, physical events will return and will need their own dose of new ideas. One that is already making its mark on in-person and hybrid events is contactless solutions.

At Hyundai’s three-day ‘Stage X Drive-In’ concert in Seoul in May, the solution not only was key to a safe in-person event, but contributed to the experience. Attendees drove to the venue and were required to wear masks and submit to temperature screening. They simply stayed in their cars to watch the show. By tuning into the concert’s FM station, audience members could respond to the performers’ cues to switch on their lights, wave their mobile phone 'torches', and other engaging actions.

4. Infiltrate the essence of festivalisation into business events

All the examples cited so far have been concerts, but that doesn’t prevent their successful festivalised elements from working their magic in other kinds of events. Festivalised touches on the programme can even transform business conferences and meetings into experiences whose content is worth exploring. A variety of festivalised features will also ensure that the event engages a wide audience with different interests and expectations. For example, HP’s flagship ‘HP Inc. Malaysia’s 2020 Launch and Partner Event’ went virtual for the first time this year. Broadcasted from Malaysia and Singapore and themed ‘Creators of Tomorrow’, it was divided into press conference and partners sessions which both included festivalised elements to raise their engagement level. A gambit launch with AR, for example, was woven throughout the programme to maintain momentum and interest. Even the partners award ceremony featured a sharable avatar video to make it a truly engaging and personalised audience experience.


Festivalisation can make an event into an experience that all attendees want to share—whether in person, online, or somewhere in between. A clear vision supported by an adept use of technology are the surest ways to ensure a satisfying ROI. The key is to be open-minded and flexible as you develop your event strategy. Don’t focus on mimicking a physical event; reference the best from both virtual and physical worlds to take audience engagement to a whole new level.

The article above was first published in Campaign Asia on 23 November 2020.