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Jonathan Emmins, founder of Amplify, on the ‘Colonel Sanders DJ’ fiasco at Ultra Festival, and why brands need to respect the culture they exist within.


Done right, brands can elevate an experience and help it become a reality. Done badly, brands become parasites forcing their way between the audience and their passions.

KFC and Ultra Festival took a grilling when a costume actor Colonel Sanders DJ’d on the main stage. Ultra is as mainstream as mainstream can be but check the video to see how awkward the audience looked. Whether you share Ultra’s musical tastes or not (and I’m not a fan of EDM), Colonel Sanders’ presence made a mockery of the amazing stage set-up, the fellow artists booked and above all the ticket-paying audience.   

Conversely, when Red Bull announced its closure of Red Bull Music Academy and Red Bull Radio in their current forms, the news was greeted with sadness, thanks and respect from artists and audiences alike. Many electronic music figureheads, like Palms Trax, Flying Lotus and Nina Kravitz, are alumni of RBMA. All credit Red Bull for making culture, rather than riding it.

As KFC quickly found, brands need to earn the right to play. As the original innovators, Red Bull will continue providing a global platform to support creativity. As a marketer, event organiser, music fan and audience member, I can’t wait to see what they do next.