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Arizona State Fair Boosts Attendance with New Marketing Strategies

1/15/2014

By Timothy Herrick

Photo courtesy of AZ State Fair

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Attendance increased by more than 20,000 for the 129th edition of the Arizona State Fair in 2013. While many factors contributed to this robust uptick in fairgoers, two new advertising methods stick out for both their effectiveness and the fact they were firsts for the fair's marketing.

One was ad placement on the news feeds appearing on the monitors at the baggage claim section of the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. "These were digital spots only appeared in this area of the airport, where people wait for their luggage," said Kristi Walsh, Assistant Executive Director. While there's no accurate measurement for the effectiveness of these ads, Walsh speculates by utilizing this unique medium with a captive audience, she reached two important consumer segments. "We got the tourists and people visiting, who may be lookinPhoto By AZ State Fairg for things to do. And, we got residents returning home who may not have otherwise known there was a fair going on."

Pandora Popularity

The second noteworthy new marketing medium was advertising on Pandora, the streaming online radio service, a suggestion that came directly from High School students. She was invited to give a talk at a high school, and knowing in this day and age of mobile devices and YouTube and the death of "appointment viewing and/or listening" by young people that this important segment is able to avoid commercials, "I asked the students how do I reach you, since you are able to consumer your media commercial-free. They said Pandora radio. If you don't have the premium, you have to listen the commercials. Teenagers love Pandora, but they can't afford the subscription service."

The size of the advertising budget has been "pretty fixed" for the past few years, according to Walsh, with the print component in that mix dropping the most. "With our radio and TV partners, we did a lot of wrist band promotions and they did on-air promotions and onsite spots at the fair."

The fair runs October 11 to November 3, with the marketing window opening on October 1st. It's a late-season fair and with school back in session, "one of our challenges is that we try to spread out our marketing. We're more crowded after work, and on weekends, so we try to do promotions for the other weekdays."

Effective Promotions

For example, the fair runs "We Care Wednesdays," with discounts for bringing three cans of non-perishable food items benefiting a local food bank, or the donation of a Phoenix Metro Card pass to a local organization benefitting homeless veterans. "These build attendance for off-peak hours. There are also some schools on fall breaks, and we get field trips to the fair, and we open specific attractions to them, anything educational."

Another new promotional strategy was an expanded use of social media. Compared to previous years, Walsh admits that in 2013, "we heavily used Facebook and Twitter, and also Instagram, Pinterest, and Yelp." Social media utilization can take too many forms, the key to the Arizona State Fair's 2013 Social Media program was to be innovative and constant. " We use it to gather feedback, conduct giveaways, generate interest, show photos from their Fair experience and more."

Martha Midway is the fair's mascot, a whacky and eccentric icon with a bouffant hair resembling a beehive made of pink cotton candy. The fair had a draw Martha Midway contest via social media. "It's really popular with the kids, it's really fun and they use their own creativity to interact with the fair," said Walsh.

For more traditional promotional avenues, the Arizona Fair's most successful sponsorship program was a partnership with a regional supermarket chain. "We partnered with Fry's Food Stores for Free Fry's Fridays - guests who spent over $40 at Fry's Food Stores during October received a voucher printed out at the bottom of their receipt for 2 free admission tickets valid for any Friday of the Fair," said Walsh.

Economic Recovery

The Arizona State Fair attendance tally indicated that 24,244 more came to the fair in 2013 compared to 2012. In 2013, the attendance total was 1,178,515, up from 1,154,271 in 2012. In addition to new promotional strategies, Walsh notes: "Beautiful weather and strong attractions with a solid discount program were the main factors."

However, she also points out these figures are returning to the pre-recessionary record highs of 2007. The numbers declined, even dipping below one million in 2009. "We had some bad weather too, but it was mainly the economy."

Wall Street melt-downs, housing bubbles bursting and soaring unemployment created an environment where shrinking disposable income decreased entertainment spending. As a result, "we started emphasizing affordability, that you don't have to spend big bucks to go to Disney when great entertainment is right here in your own back yard. We did start to reach new audiences, even during a tough economic time. "

As the economy's slow economic recovery began, attendance figures started to slowly surge. This year Walsh switched the promotion messaging. "Industry-wide, attendance was down and now it started back up, so this year we appealed to attendees to take ownership of the fair, that this is Your Fair and You Belong Here. The economy appears to be recovering, given the higher attendance and accompanying revenue streams. While cost is still a primary issue for families, we do see some recovery happening."

Affordable Entertainment

The fair also benefited from some top-notch entertainment. Regardless of the state of the economy for any given summer, the Arizona State Fair emphasizes affordability and ticket prices for its grandstand.  Concerts range $15 - $20, which includes admission to the fair. This summer's concert headliners ranged from stalwarts like Trace Adkins, ZZ Top and Cheap Trick to Snoop Dog aka Snoop Lion, the Alabama Shakes and Megadeth. One of the more unique bookings was Jerry Lewis, the legendary film star and comedian - the original "Nutty Professor" - who was presenting a new career overview with film clips, comedy routines, monologues, reminiscences and audience interaction.

Nearly 14,000 tickets were sold for Billy Currington, the closest thing to a sell-out for the event. "People loved the show. Our entertainment was strong this year, we want to keep the tickets affordable."

She added that booking has become more of a challenge, and although she did not find prices extraordinarily high among the touring acts available, the challenge has come from regional competition. "There are so many venues in Phoenix, we're not the backwater we used to be. We have more stages than the fair for these acts. Phoenix is a major stop on a tour, not just a place acts pass through and play at the fair. But I think we got pretty good acts this year and the concert series was a success."

Bringing Home the Bacon

BaconRay Cammack Shows has been the Arizona State Fair midway provider since 1997, with this year's Midway featuring 70 rides, including new attractions - Insanity, and Quad Runners. Although midway revenue figures were unavailable, Walsh added "it looks like midway spending was up."

The fair featured 100 food booths, with the new Bacon-A-Fair getting the most media coverage and attendee attention. "It was a new booth featuring everything bacon - wrapped, crusted, and fried. It was a huge media and guest hit with lines all the time. We got tons of coverage."

New Frontier

A new attraction that also received attention by both the local media and the general public was Star Trek: The Exhibition, a "museum-quality" interactive presentation of star trek props, sets, film clips and memorabilia from the 40+ years of this pop culture phenomena, including four television series and more than a dozen films. "It had really cool stuff," Walsh said. "But with the new films, the exhibit was drawing in young adults as well as older adults, bringing their kids and even grand children."

Walsh pointed out that for the previous two years, the fair featured "Our Body: The Universe Within," another exhibition that with interactive displays and other museum-quality attributes, adding an info-tainment attraction as a stand alone exhibit, further redefining what a state fair can offer. The Star Trek was the follow-up to that initial foray into this new frontier of contemporary interactive museum quality exhibits, this time highlighting the "taintment" over the info, enabling attendees to go where no fairgoers have gone before.


"Our Body: The Universe Within did very well," said Walsh. "We wanted to provide an equally quality attraction that would appeal to a wide demographic. The Star Trek exhibit was well received and exceeded expectations."   

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