Marketing for the Champlain Valley Fair in Essex Junction, Vermont may have revolved around its perennial tag line - "The 10 Best Days of Summer" - but the makeover actually started the year before when the fair made a concerted effort to film B-Roll footage of the fair and the individual fairgoer experiences. The fair's new marketing campaign focused on testimonials, the idea being that nothing sells the fair experience better than actual fairgoers and other fair participants talking about how much the fair means to them, "We strengthened our brand by having our marketing more testimonial based," said Christopher Ashby, Director of Operations, Champlain Valley Fair. "We worked with a production company last year, and we had guests speaking about the fair, saying things like how my whole family likes to get together every year the fa
ir. They talked about their connections with their fair."
This fairgoer-focused marketing may have started in 2010, but over the course of the ensuing years it became a side project to the dominating means of marketing. "We used it quite differently this year, we had a very different emphasis and used the testimonials in different ways."
More than seven hours of testimonials were recorded, collecting quotes that were used on television, radio and even pulled for print ads. "We filmed a lot of generic footage, so for television we cut that with the testimonials. With the radio we of course used audio. It was a mix of new interviews and some conducted last year, but we had more spots, and more people talking this year, and the emphasis was the personal connection to the fair."
The fair has a marketing budget of about $150,000 (Ashby said the fair does not disclose specific figures), and emphasized that "we still do print, but the media landscape is changing. Radio is important still, and we do more web-based advertising. We are placing ads on local sites and blogger websites, which have been good partnerships. We didn't really change were we spent the money this year, but a lot of where we are spending and placing happens by default."
He added that the 10 Best Days of Summer tagline coupled with the personal connection testimonials by fairgoers "made for a unifying theme tying together all our advertising."
Social media - the Champlain Valley Fair Facebook page has garnered more than 28,000 followers - is of course a growing component of the marketing program by this New England event. But the fair takes a distinctly different tact when it comes to Facebook and other social media platforms. "We keep our voice on Facebook information oriented. We do not use our on advertising on Facebook. we do not feel it is the place for sales pitches."
Instead, Facebook is more direct, focusing on specific attractions at the fair, the 4-H youth competitions, and various events happening within the context of the fair. "It is very direct, and typically our posts are around specific aspects of the fair. We do post some videos, and we have added channels, but it is more informative."
The fair has also added Snapchat to its social media program, and uploaded more pictures this fair on the Instagram account.
The Champlain Valley Fair prefers not to reveal exact attendance figures, but according to Ashby, the attendance was better than last year, which was about 150,000. The weather had one significant impediment - a very wet closing day. "The fair went very well. Nine out of the 10 days had great weather. We did lose a weekend day, the Sunday was a rain out, but that second Saturday it was incredible. It was still busy much later than usual, so the second to last day had a lot of traffic, probably because the weather reports said it was going to rain."
Although Ashby said that second to last day of the fair was probably more a near record than record breaking day, he noted that the vendors "reported to me that they were doing a great business and were on track to beat last year's figures."
In spite of the rainy close to the Champlain Valley Fair, the midway was actually up compared to last, not the least of which was likely due to the robust second to last day, which had rides running at full or near full capacity into the night. Ashby said the ride revenue was up by approximately 5 percent compared to 2016. The James E. Strates Shows featured 47 rides, with the Giant Wheel being the top grossing attraction. "The thrill rides were the most popular, and we had a lot of teenagers, they tend to push the revenue," he said.
In addition, the fair built upon several promotional strategies which included four separate unlimited wrist band days as well as a carload special where for one admission price an every fairgoer in the car receives unlimited rides. Another special, which increased weekday night attendance, was six after six, where admission is $6 after 6:00 o'clock. "We've been running the same promotions and they worked great this year, people expect them."
The fair featured a strong line up of paid entertainment, which, in addition to fan-favorite spectaculars, such as A Monster Truck event - "Night of Fire & Destruction," a Truck Demo Derby, a Demolition Derby and the U.S. Freestyle Motocross Championship, paid concerts included the "I Love the '90s" tour, with TLC, Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray, C+C Music Factory, All 4 One, Rob Base and SNAP; Brantley Gilbert; John Mellencamp with Carlene Carter and Pentatonix (which was one of its final shows with departing band member Avi Kaplan).
The fair also featured free music on the Koffee Kup Stage, which focused on Vermont musicians.
Headline entertainment is "still a significant part of the fair," said Ashby. "It can bring in a lot of people to hear the concerts. We do notice an uptick with attendance on many shows, and the right act can bring a lot of people to hear the concerts. When it makes economic sense, it is still worthwhile to bring the act."
The problem of course is determining that economic sense, which is often a question that cannot be answered until after the show is booked and tickets go sale. "There is always a fair amount of risk when booking any act. Vermont is a remote location, and it can difficult booking on our budget, we don't always fit into the routing."
However, Ashby pointed out the booking conditions have essentially remained as challenging this year as they had been for the 2016 fair. "The music has changed dramatically. Acts no longer sell units, they making their money touring. The growth of festivals has cut into our business - I have more than 20 venues and festivals to compete with. Guests also expect more. There's a menu of acts we can afford, that we pick from when they are available."
He added, "there is no guarantee we will continue with the number of headliners we have had. Shows like Monster Trucks and the Demo Derby perform well, and they are part of the history of the fair. They make senses, there's less overhead and those can be challenging nights to draw in fans."
While perhaps not as controversial as the future booking practices of this New England event, there was a new introduction that agricultural and livestock circles were very interested in. For the first time since 1846, the inaugural year of the Vermont State Fair, goats joined the ranks of cattle, horses, lambs poultry and oxen "We brought in goats for the first time because goat milk is becoming a very popular commodity," said Ashby. "We had them in a display tent with the sheep. They didn't compete this year, but if there's enough interest, we will be starting some sort of competition next year for goats."