The Event Professor is in.

ESSENCE MUSIC FESTIVAL,
NEW ORLEANS

New Orleans is a special place with a rich and unique culture, world-famous for its Creole food, Mardi Gras parades and innovative music scene. The annual Essence Music Festival is the largest celebration of African-American culture in the US and it’s held in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. With headliners like John Legend, Mary J. Blige and Diana Ross, Enigma researchers were more than a little excited to be on site this summer!

IT ALL STARTED WITH A PARTY

Essence Magazine was the first major publication to focus on black women as a target audience. From its 1970 debut it was an immediate success and achieved a circulation peak of 1.6 million.

Flash-forward to 1995: it’s the magazine’s 25th anniversary party in the Big Easy, complete with performances by Aretha Franklin and B.B. King. Over 100,000 people gather to celebrate, making the event so successful it evolves into an annual music festival that A-listers like Prince and Beyonce will go on to headline.

Believe it or not, music is only part of the festival. Head to the nearby convention center for a free three-day trade show with hundreds of interactive exhibits. If you’re hungry, visit the vendors at Essence Eats for some tasty fare. The Essence Empowerment Experience is another highlight, featuring dozens of motivational speakers ranging from prominent black politicians to superstars like Halle Berry and Oprah.

BEAUTY ON THE BLOCK

The Ford Block Party is a chart-topping experiential exhibit, featuring its own village with a stage, test rides and even a hair salon! Did I mention there’s an entire hall dedicated to hair products? It’s hard to leave without looking more fabulous than when you arrived.

Event Professor note: In recent years, many traditional media companies have responded to shrinking advertising dollars by getting into the music festival business. But the pioneering minds at Essence made this move 22 years ago. Brilliant!

BIG BRANDS, BIGGER EXPERIENCE

Ever seen Walmart do experiential? There were three distinct mega-booths: one for beauty products, another with a celebrity stage, plus the Supplier Inclusion Marketplace showcasing minority-owned products sold in stores.

It doesn’t get much bigger than Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Disney, especially when they bring premium swag and gorgeous motivational branding specific to the black community.

BOOST YOUR SELFIE-CONFIDENCE

Essence Festival exhibitors take selfie culture to a new level of tech innovation. Both the Ford and Walmart exhibits featured touch-screen mirrors that not only reflect your image but also take your picture with a built-in camera and display flattering messages! Do you model?

Smirnoff joined the ranks at this year’s festival, hosting multiple VIP experiences and giving out thousands of full-size Moscow Mules in branded copper mugs. Enigma team lead Ariel couldn’t resist posing for a few shots in front of the gorgeous product display.

How great do those graphic logos look as backdrops? The vibrant signage drew guests in for beautiful group photos with their favorite mega-brands.

Big celebrities, international brands, and authentic culture always result in the best events. But the extra magic of Essence Fest is brought by festival-goers themselves. Instead of the usual, casual style worn at summer events, women of all ages show up dressed to kill, rocking their best jewelry, nails and hair. Ariel, who hails from Detroit, put it quite simply: “I’ve never seen so many beautiful black people in one place!”


I have researched 800+ events worldwide and love to share stories. Please contact me if you want to discuss anything from visitor surveys to economic impact to sponsorship ROI measurement.

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Y’all come back now.

Michael, The Event Professor

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