Now that a decade of growth has gone by, establishing itself in the Tennessee fair market, the Delta Fair & Music Festival decided to start its next decade with Cowvin.
Cowvin (the moniker is a clever spin of the name Calvin) is not your average bovine, he was the new - and first - mascot for this Memphis event. Cowvin was spotlighted throughout the marketing campaign by the fair, but not just in the usual advertisements and marketing. Like many fairs, the event partners with regional grocery store chains to promote the fair and sell tickets. This year, cardboard Cowvins were placed in the stores and selfies were encouraged to be taken, creating excitement and anticipation for the fair.
"We came up with our own
mascot, Cowvin, who is a cow wearing overalls and holding a corn," said Mark Lovell, President/CEO. "We created a six-foot tall cardboard cutout, and had them placed at the local grocery store chain where people could buy discounted tickets. We also did free ticket giveaway and random contests. We had contests where people would take a selfie with the Cowvin cutout and that worked out great."
The advertising budget for the fair was $200,000, which was up a few thousand dollars compared to last year. "We spent more money," said Lovell. "We did a lot of ticket giveaways. We spent a lot less on TV, and shifted those funds to billboards. We were heavy on the outdoor advertising market."
The billboard campaign was particularly clever, using an interactive concept to engage participants. The message on the digital billboard would have one misspelled word in the advertising copy, and the first 10 people who identified the misspelling would receive free admission. "It was a very successful campaign.
The billboards were placed primarily in a "50 mile loop" around the city of Memphis, the prime market for the fair. Within that radius, "we saw certain areas that were more beneficial to advertise in, some smaller towns, and we shotgun out the billboards in a few of those places well."
Lovell's advertising strategy is to wait until about a month before opening day, and then saturate the market. "We hold off and start four weeks before opening day," he said. "I don't think it is cost effective to do any marketing before then. This year we hit the marketing harder during those four weeks."
Aside from boosting billboard spending and reducing television advertising, "We had lot radio tie-ins with our music," he said. "For instance, we had a lot of country music, so we worked with a country music station."
Like other fairs in today's media landscape, old media like print took a hit, but it's important to note that selective print marketing is a viable avenue. "We don't do the traditional morning papers because people don't really get their news that way anymore. But still do weekly magazines, alternative weeklies and for Hispanic markets, you can still target customers you want to reach."
While not as old school as print, emails received renewed emphasis within the revamped marketing campaign by the Delta Fair & Music Festival in 2017. "We did a big email campaign this year. We have a large database of emails that we've grown throughout the years. It's still a major way we communicate with our customers. We did more and better e-blasts this year."
Regarding social media, Lovell "said we promoted the heck out of the fair on social media, we did a lot of Facebook. We've always done Facebook, and we kept it in-house, but this year, we really got serious with social media marketing."
In addition to the actual marketing to turn consumers into fairgoers, the fair also implemented some new promotions, such as a one dollar Thursday and a $10 Tuesday, which meant unlimited rides for the ten dollars.
All of the new promotions and marketing schemes were all about the fair narrowing the marketing window to four weeks, then "hitting it harder," said Lovell.
Combined with optimum weather, the 2017 Delta Fair & Music Festival recorded an attendance of 220,000, a considerable increase over last year's 197,000. "We had an outstanding event, "said Lovell. "We're basically a state fair without the title of a state fair. We had outstanding livestock shows, great grandstands, and attractions, including a new tiger show and circuses."
Affordable and family friendly are key components to the fair. One new amenity was a Big Wheel Track. The fair purchased 10 Big Wheels - the iconic children's tricycle - and had a free track for families to linger with their children, even hold Big Wheel races. "It was something we did, it was free and families loved it.
The key is keeping the attractions - including the music free - "you want to add value to the ticket price, and so all our concerts are free, as our tractor pulls and demolition derbies.
In fact, about 150 music acts of all ranges underscored the 'music festival' in the Delta Fair & Music Festival title. The biggest draw was Grand Funk Railroad and the Bellamy Brothers, according to Lovell. Other highlights included Chord Overstreet, Aaron Carter, Why Don't We, Austin Mahone, Keith Sykes & Band, High Valley, Filter, and Blackberry Smoke.
Radio Ambiente Fiesta Patrias was the headliner of the fair's Hispanic day. "They are a big Latino Band," he said. "We have a Latino Day, but we also have a military appreciation day, and we offer more free shows than anyone else in the area."
Memphis is a city renowned worldwide for its music, and the large population of musicians and music industry folks makes it easier to round out a line up, a necessary component for an outdoor event with three separate stages. However, this by no means makes the Delta Fair & Music Festival immune to the realities of today's unyielding sellers market when it comes to talent buying for fairs.
Lovell pointed that the two choices fairs have is to book a touring band - hoping that the date fits comfortably into the act's routing - or a "one off" music act, meaning that the entertainer is coming into town to specifically play the Delta Fair & Music Festival. "Memphis is not a cheap air fare, so booking really depends if you are booking a touring band or a one off band, because one offs can be more because. This year we were able to split it right down the middle. We have a have a formula that works, which is all our music is free with the price of the fair admission, and we don't do hard ticket sales. People come here for the music, and we load the music festival up with good music, and we rotate the musicians."
The sweet spot is to have an even balance of local and regional musicians - who are less expensive and also bring in their own followings to the fair - as well as a mix of music acts that are at the dawn of their careers alongside those entering the twilight phase. "You want people who are up and comers, and folks who already had their heyday, but they are still great musicians and have a fan base."
He added, "We want wholesome acts, and a mix of country music, pop, classic rock. Stuff that you hear on the radio. We have brought in a few bands that were not as family friendly, who drop the F-bomb on stage, so you try to be aware of that when you are booking talent."
The Delta Fair & Music Festival featured 60 food vendors, with the typical fair standards like funnel cakes and deep fried Oreos being cuisine staples. The newest food item was a "jalapeno-stuffed chicken wrapped in bacon, "that was great," he said.
Delta Fair & Music Festival midway was provided by Reed Expositions Midway and featured 64 rides, with top rides being an OMG, Avenger and 360. "We had two big Century Wheels," said Jimmy Reed, founder and president, Reed Expositions Midway. "This is one of the largest fairs in terms of number of rides that we play."
It was the inaugural year for Reed Exposition as the carnival company at the Delta Fair & Music Festival. "It was an awesome fair," said Reed. "The attendance was really good, and the whole fair is run very well, like a Swiss watch."
He did note that there was a "feeling they needed to change some things" in regards to the midway. This meant creating a separate Kiddie Land, moving it away from the main midway. "The Kiddie Land was moved to the front of the fair, about 300 feet from the adult rides," said Reed. We had a new Dumbo ride, which is a beautiful ride, and two merry-go-rounds."
Another reason why Lovell declared the 2017 event outstanding was that the Tennessee economy has finally bounced back. "Business is up," he said. "A fair is always a combination of things, the weather, our advertising, but Tennessee's economy is up significantly because it is not tied to one particular industry. It's not as volatile as it had been."
He also feels the fair itself worked smarter. "We spent our money more wisely this year, especially with the marketing and our entertainment."
However, he resists resting on his laurels. "I am never satisfied. I think Cowvin worked out great; it gave us different stories to push. Our presales were up. But like a lot of fairs, we are still missing the boat on bringing in more millennials. We are doing more monitoring of that age group, and then we will be looking at the marketing and entertainment to bring more of them to the fair."