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Market research leads to LA County Fair rebrand

12/17/2014

By Timothy Herrick

Photo courtesy of

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The LACF - formerly known as the LA County Fair -  August 29 September 28 -  saw attendance dip but revenue stay steady, with the verdict being that while a heatwave early on in the fair hurt its overall gate, the massive re-branding and new marketing effort showed positive results. 

Weather-wise, a heat wave affected some of the early days - "it was preternaturally hot, very unreal for this time of year, in the triple digits, but the evenings were great," said Michael Chee, Director of Marketing & Communications. "That affected attendance, but the last two weeks of the fair, the weather was perfect."

Attendance & Revenue 
Attendance reached 1,204,911, a slight dip from 2013 - not unexpected given the high day-time temPhoto By ps. Once the heat wave broke, guests came out in full force. LACF broke evening and weekday attendance records during the last week, racking up the best last Thursday ever with 70,010 guests and the best last Friday figures in 20 years, with 85,453.

According to Chee,  "per capita spending was up," and the fair generated $30 million in revenue, about the same as last year. "We had one less day because of the calendar," said Chee. "And we had a small drop in attendance, so given that our revenue was the same as last year, with less people, I can say we had a good fair and that our new marketing was effective." 

"We are very pleased with this year's Fair and believe from an entertainment, programming and experiential point of view, it was indeed our best production ever," said Renee Hernandez,  Communications & Public Relations Supervisor. "Despite the heat, we still say record breaking single day crowds and evening guest attendance was consistently strong.  Our customer surveys reported some of the highest satisfaction rates we've ever had." 

Market Research
And if it is one thing this fair follows, it's market research. 
Extensive market research followed the conclusion of the 2013 fair. The research that was conducted in the months following last year's fair, included passive kiosk surveys at the fair, where nearly 30,000 participants answered customer satisfaction and other opinion questionnaires on their experience, live intercepts that interviewed attendees on the fairgrounds and traditional focus groups, that included people who had never been to the fair.

"We realized that people had misconceptions about the fair, what was here, what we had to offer," said Chee. "Our mission was to tell our story better, to add more energy and detail, and reach new customers." 

HASHTAG Friendly
The results of the study indicated this Golden State fair needed to refresh its image in order to fit into the ever changing, multi-media, consumer marketplace of 21st century Los Angeles county. While the actions the fair took included both a rebranding and a complete overhaul of its marketing,  the most apparent adjustment was a name change... well,  not a change per say... more of an adopting an acronym. For 2014, the LA County Fair became LACF. 

Besides being texting friendly, acronyms have other advantages. "We made a new logo, with new colors and four blocks," said Chee. "LACF is easier and simpler to remember in our current society of media consumption. And it was better for hashtag references."

Making a new, more hashtagable moniker was only one of the marketing changes this year. 

"2014 was a new year for us, specifically because we rebranded and launched a new logo, look and feel and a new, completely reimagined creative campaign for the first time in over a decade," said Hernandez. "We made extensive use of market and focus group research from 2013 to retool and reposition ourselves.  We feel we moved the needle in significant new ways - both in how the Fair is perceived by millennials and young families."

Chee pointed out that, "our entire marketing was changed. We especially targeted households with higher incomes and new and never been visitors."

The other marketing goal was to reach "a broader multicultural audience," said Chee. "Our preliminary research showed that there were groups we weren't reaching. There was a large, never been audience among these populations. We launched a duel campaign to entice higher income groups and to attract and inform more groups about the fair."

Finding New Fairgoers
The fair's advertising budget is approximately $2 million and includes a broad mix of traditional TV, radio, print, digital, and online. This year, the real change was more a re-allocation in terms of markets than media. Throughout the Los Angeles DMA, the LACF spherically focused on the Hispanic, Chinese and Korean segments. "We dialed a little back some vehicles, like print and radio," said Chee. "But the further into different markets, the further customized you have to be."

The fair translated ads and marketing material into Chinese, Korean and of course Spanish. The latter actually required another layer of ingenuity. "The Los Angeles DMA ha a very large share of Hispanics, which we discovered, a large part of this market is English preferred," said Chee. "Even though they are bilingual and  culturally identify as Hispanic, they are impacted by our English language marketing." 

The market research indicated where these ethnic populations were "clustered," and in addition, targeted geographical pools of potential fairgoers, "we culturally tweaked our creative work, which is not just translating it into Chinese or Korean, but slightly altering so it is more culturally relevant and customized for that market," said Chee.

For the social media follow through of the marketing - and indicative of how social media has evolved - the fair hired four social media hosts - two males and two females - in their 20s and fluent in the languages of the targeted consumer groups. These culturally appropriate media millennials not only appeared in television ads and wrote blogs, tweets and Facebook posts and performed voiceovers for commercials, they hosted online "Webisodes" that were presented before and during the fair - in Chinese, Korean and Spanish. 

With social media for a fair the size and scope of the LACF and one that is within such a diverse and media-savvy market as Los Angeles, it is no longer sufficient for a fair to use an intern or have it merely a line item in somebody's job description. "You need commitment and consistency," said Chee. "We carried through our themes in all our advertising and social media." 

Catering to the new fairgoers was a new event, Luminasia, a Chinese lantern festival consisting of more than 200 giant, handmade lanterns as well as asian music, performances and food. "It was very well received," said Chee. "We had Chinese artisans make the lanterns, which is a cultural art form."

Social media was far from limited to ethnic niches at LACF. One of the more innovative social media campaigns for the fair was nuptial in nature. The marketing department launched an "exclusive "Fair-Y Tale Wedding" contest that solicited social media users to campaign for their chance to win an exclusive themed wedding at this year's fair," said Hernandez. "Four couples were chosen from among the entries and each received a wedding package valued at nearly $4,000.  Couples were married every weekend of the Fair in one of our unique environments or exhibits."  

Soft Music
The fair phased out its $1 admission promotion during opening weekend, which may have been a factor in the attendance dip and revenue uptick. But the fair implemented other price oriented promotions. "For the first time, guests who purchased an End of Summer concert ticket received free LACF admission," said Hernandez. "We heavily marketed and commercial partner admission discounts through our all our traditional and online marketing and featured these discounts prominently on our website throughout the entire run of fair."

Those partnership discounts ranged from 50 to 75 percent.

While the free admission to the fair if you bought a concert ticket - which ranged $10 - $40 with specially priced VIP Skybox, the concert series presented by Toyota, presented no sell outs. Heart, Pentatonix, LL Cool J, Styx and this year's closer, Earth, Wind & Fire, drew the largest crowds. 

While successful, the concert series did not perform as well as other segments of the fair. Entertainment buying for this year, Chee concedes, "was very much a sellers market and it increasingly has become one. It is more and more a challenge to find quality acts  that you can attract for budget you have to manage. It is more art more than science in gauging the relevancy of performers, or to find those up and coming acts that will bring people to the fair." 

For free entertainment, a first timer in this Southern California fair was World of Wonders, and old fashioned carnival "freak show" with magic, sword swallowers and jugglers. Other free entertainment included: Barn Yard Races (Pigs and chickens); Sea Lion Splash Show; Chinese acrobats;  Mojo's Wild and Crazy Lagoon with exotic animals; Pirate Adventures featuring high dive and acrobat acts, and ZOR the Fire Eater.

RCS Midway
Ray Commack Show (RCS),  who has been the midway provider for LACF for about 30 years, presented 70 rides at this year's fair, including new rides the Galaxy Roller Coaster, the OMG and the Pelican Splash. "It was a very good fair and they did unusually good promotions this year," said Tony Fiori, Vice President of Marketing, RCS. "They did an advanced sale through Cosco that was very popular, we did very well at this fair. 

The Galaxy Coaster was the most popular ride, according to Fiori, who added that while some heat wave that plagued the early fair days might have negatively impacted ridership, "we swapped out one ride with the Pelican Splash, which is more popular in the hot weather. Turns out that was a good decision." 

The fair featured  200 food vendors, and Chee stated the LACF recorded "increases in food sales," although exact revenues were not available at press time.  Top sellers were the Triple Decker Krispy Kreme Burger, Deep-fried Oreos, and the Sriracha Corn Dog (Sriracha is a locally popular salsa).  While Los Angeles may have the image of healthy eating and the agricultural constituency of the fair promotes fresh and wholesome foods, fair cuisines retains a place on the palates of fairgoers.

"People are more conscious of what they eat, but they see fair food as a treat and reward," said Chee. "And food like the Sriracha Corn Dog is fun." 

Expanded Farm
The fair also gave a makeover to the agricultural components still essential to LACF. According to Chee, through government and other grants, the fair expanded other agricultural offerings, expanding this section of the fair - known as The Farm - which includes exhibits, contest and other events from one to three acres. This year, The Farm featured more than 140 California-specialty crops,  new Farm Kitchen that prepared special delicacies, including a popular savory wood-grilled flatbread and the Big Red Barn, which showcased "agri-tainment" ranging from baby chicks, giant pigs, milking cows and the crowd-favorite petting zoo. 

"We still provide an educational role to the public about California's agricultural industry," said Chee. 

In terms of agriculture, that educational role has also taken on the contemporary trend of home gardening in the region, where homeowners are converting grass lawns to organic gardens. "We had dozens of more exotic, non-traditional vegetables on exhibit, with information on how they are grown, what grows in our area. Our roots are in agriculture, and it is really back to the future and this is really an evolution of our agricultural roots, educating people on sustainable and green living and keeping the fair relevant." 

2014 Research
In addition to finalizing revenue and more specific spending patterns, Chee is looking at some of the market research conducted at the fair. "Indications from our customer tracking is that people had a very strong, positive experience to our programming and content," he said.

The tracking, conducted by a third party, has a scoring scale of 1-5, and that for content, the fair was receiving 4.0. He added, "we use a very reputable company for customer tracking, and 4.0 is one of he highest consumer experience scores they see."  


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