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Brand it with jazz!

Festival Internacional de Jazz de Punta Del Este. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

As I got out of the train station at Montreux for the opening day one of the world’s biggest jazz festivals, I was welcomed with a complimentary can of coke just like everybody arriving on the day.

Before I entered the festival grounds I already knew that Coca Cola was one of the sponsors.

However, when I got to the venue, I was absolutely impressed by the variety of brand experiences created by the sponsors of the festival.

To lovers of Jazz, Montreux is perhaps the ultimate pilgrimage.

Founded in 1967, when it was held for three days, the festival which now runs for two weeks has featured the most famous jazz artists from all over the world and attracts more than 200,000 visitors annually.

The festival owes some of this expansion to coproduction by the legendary Quincy Jones who brought many international artists to the festival in the 1990s.

While it was strictly a jazz affair at the start, the scope has since been broadened to accommodate other genres.

The small beautiful city of Montreux owes much of its popularity to this jazz festival.

Located on Lake Geneva at the foot of the Swiss Alps the city has an incredible scenic beauty.

For lovers of Jazz, Montreux is a compelling destination.

While it is easily one of the tourist attractions in Switzerland the value of destination branding given to it by the famous Jazz Festival is unmistakeable.

While the early days might have been modest, the 52 year old festival now enjoys the support of global brands as sponsors.

The exotic location enables the major sponsors to have decks on the shores where they are able to create brand experience for visitors.

Back home, my friend Ayo Shadare and his outfit, Inspiro Productions, has been pushing the Lagos International Jazz Festival for several years.

However, sponsorship has been a major challenge, making it difficult to gain the momentum that will make this festival one of the major events on the African continent.

In this regard, South Africa is way ahead of us, with their very popular Cape Town Jazz Festival which of course, enjoys the sponsorship of the country’s leading brands.

It is sad that some of our decision makers look at Jazz as an unattractive sponsorship prospect.

But when I look at what the Motreux Jazz Festival has become and the huge social and economic benefits to the host city, I marvel at how we have not taken advantage of this aspect of destination branding.

At the Montreux Jazz Fest, the food section alone makes you think it is actually a food festival.

The hundreds of youths gainfully engaged to handle various aspects of the event is impressive.

You just have to appreciate how much value things like this create for any community.

Now imagine the incredible array of musical talents we have in this country yearning for avenues to express themselves.

We certainly have all it to create one of the biggest music festivals on the planet.

Our corporates must appreciate the economic benefits of events and festivals such as this and embrace the sponsorship of such.

We must stop paying lip service to youth empowerment and actually invest in programs that have the potential to make actual economic impact.

Our governments must also wake up to the huge potential of destination branding and begin to take advantage of festivals and how they can help stimulate economic growth.

Most of our governors, quite sadly, are unable to make this connection.

They are unable to harness the unique attributes of their states and turn it into tangible economic benefits by way of destination branding.

This is surprising because many of them actually know they should implement these programs.

However, greed and graft has taken the better of their collective consciousness and rendered them into a state of perpetual inertia.

When Donald Duke was governor in Cross River State, he built a strong Cross River State brand on the platform of tourism.

The highpoint of his destination branding program remains the popular Calabar Carnival, which after a couple of years developed into an international event, drawing visitors and participants from different parts of the world.

It also gives Nigerians living abroad an exciting reason to come home at least once a year!

I once tried to take my family to Calabar for the carnival but when I made calls to book a hotel a month to the carnival, all the hotels were already fully booked! Duke made the state the leading tourist destination in the country.

Calabar was reputed for good food, friendly people and hospitality. Good hotels, good roads and clean safe streets made the city the place to be.

And of course, he developed Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort, which would have been the biggest business and leisure destination in West Africa.

The state had the only cable car transportation in the country and Obudu Ranch became the preferred location for Presidential retreats.

While other states in the South South grappled with militancy and criminality, Calabar was relatively safe.

It became a place you go when you want to enjoy. The state had a clearly defined brand identity on which it built tangible economic value.

Until Liyel Imoke became governor and now Ben Ayade.

I hope the tourism offering of the state is revved up and taken to even greater heights.

The annual carnival already enjoys the support of corporate sponsors which is quite commendable.

This can be further enhanced and other tourism offerings of the state should be further developed.

After all these years, I am surprised that other state have not fully leveraged the various cultural festivals that have the potential to be developed into compelling destination branding programs.

Lagos State did a marvellous job with the Eyo Festival and made it more attractive.

However, a lot more needs to be done. Music and Cultural Festivals are not just about eating, drinking and festivity.

They are a strong platform for destination branding with the many social and economic benefits it brings.

• Muyiwa Kayode is CEO at USP Brand Management and author, The Seven Dimensions of Branding. Brand Nation is a platform for promoting national development based on the universal principles of branding.

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