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Marketing "Tweaks" Turns California State Fair Spectacular
Butler midway sales up 13.5%

8/24/2015

By Timothy Herrick

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The California State Fair selected "The Best 17 Days of Summer" as its marketing theme for  2015, invoking the eclectic nature of the fair. There's a something for everybody attitude to this more than two week extravaganza,  which features more than 3,000 exhbits. This abundance of things for fairgoers to enjoy justifies the boast inherent in this year's motto, which also effectively rode the coattails of last year's theme, 'Celebrating the best of the best!', which Jennifer Castleberry, Marketing Director, described as now "over-arching marketing theme" for the entire fairgrounds and California State Fair brand.

But a catchy catchphrase was only the starting point for a marketing and promotional strategy that pushed this year's edition of California State Fair into one of the best-ever territory. "We had a spectacular fair," said Castleberry. 

How spectacular? Attendance was 787,833, up 5 percent in 2015, more than 37,000 additional visitors compared to 2014. Looking at the per-day figures, the fair had its average daily total attendance, 45,992, was the highest since 2007. The average daily paid attendance was the highest in 10 years - up 4.1 percent from 556,440 to 579,338. The Fair celebrated its best opening Saturday and Sunday in nine years (total attendance) and its best opening week in ten years (total attendance).

Shattering Records
For Castleberry, the fair lived up to its tagline. "This year's Fair was truly the best 17 days of summer," she said. "We shattered records and celebrated the best of  California each and every day."

Shattered records also included revenue spikes for the Butler Amusements Midway and Food & Beverage sales. While the event enjoyed warm, near-perfect fair weather, the California State Fair 2015 surge can mainly be credited to its new marketing strategies, which included promotions beginning earlier in the year, more strategic mix of ad placement, a revamped social media program was implemented, and more news coverage due to new content, such as drone racing and a new "fair chef." 

With this new strategy, Castleberry feels that "we were able to target different people better. We showcase a lot of new events, like our Beer Festival and our Horse Racing, we have something for everybody. We showcased education, competition, technology, food and entertainment, everything California is known for. We hosted the inaugural National Drone Racing Championships this year. Racers from all over the world and organizations such as the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA and the American Modeling Academy attended. In addition, national and international media outlets covered the races."

New content that appealed to a high amount of niche demographics achieved this desired affect through a new promotional approach. "The fair implemented several new tweaks to its marketing strategies, including an earlier launch, shifting of media allocations, new advertising venues and an innovative expansion into new social media platforms," she said.

Earlier Push
Instead of May for the July fair, the Fair's marketing launched in April. "We had an earlier blitz, we do a lot of concert promotions and we sold out five shows this year in our Toyota Stage Concert Series."  Sold out of refers to the 1,500-1,700 Gold Seating tickets in the 35,000-seat grandstand. Some of the most popular shows included: Air Supply - 40th Anniversary Tour, Britt Nicole, Ashanti, Martina McBride: The Everlasting Tour., 38 Special, and Chase Rice. 

In addition to the earlier launch, "Marketing elements appeared throughout the region", said Castleberry. One of the more unique new spots was at the Arden Fair Mall, a regional shopping mall. "They have a 3-sided HD video wall that covers their elevator that was used to promote the Fair in a bold, brilliant way. It was a way we were able to showcase a lot of what we do." 

The fair's advertising budget was $774,000, spent in digital, radio, outdoor, TV and print. But with the earlier marketing push, and its emphasis on concert promotion, the allocation shifted, according to Castleberry. The radio budgeted was boosted to $123,000, from under $90,000 last year and Outdoor went to $194,000, compared to $170,000 last year. "Most of the money came from television, where we made more targeted buys," we also ended up looking at our digital buys, we revaluated certain channels and certain groups where we advertise, and this year we were able to purchase ads for their highest effectiveness, overall click-throughs and overall ROI's." 

Up Periscope
The California State Fair also added the latest social media platforms. "This year we used Periscope to live stream some events, we added a Snap Chat filter and used more user-generated photos to make our posts more authentic," said Castleberry."

With Periscope, a live streaming platform, the fair was able to live stream various events, such as the inaugural drone race, births in the nursery areas of the baby barns and cooking demonstrations. "We are able to get more notifications out on Facebook and Twitter. We were able to get the information out as it was happening." 

In addition, the fair grew its Facebook following from 108,000 to 165,500 and Twitter to more than 9,100, up by more than 28 percent from last year. The new State Fair App was downloaded by 19,833 people and from May 1st to the fair, the CAStateFair.org website had 961,862 total unique visitors and 4,091,626 page views.

Food Festival
The California State Fair is considered the largest food festival in Northern California, according to Castleberry. The middle Saturday of the Fair (July 18) was the single highest paid attendance in more than 10 years at 66,469 and had the largest food and beverage sales in the history of the California State Fair with nearly $1.1 million in a single day. She said that food and beverage sales " broke records in 2014 with sales at $8.3 million and that trend continued in 2015 with gross sales increasing 14 percent with more than $9.5 million in sales in 17 days."

The most popular food category was barbecue, and Castleberry said nearly "$1 million was spent at the barbecue stands at the Fair." One stand, Terry's Barbecue, recorded $413,177 in sales.
 
She added that "the majority of food vendors saw increases in sales." Top performing food vendors included Cardinali's Pizza ( up 53 percent), Pepe's Mariscos ( up 11 percent), and Country Fair Cinnamon Rolls (up 14 percent)s. She added that Wine Slushie sales were up 20 percent and that a "revamped Craft Brew Pub saw an 87 percent increase in sales." 

While a new food vendor with a healthier profile - Fruit Juice in a Fruit, which served juice in a bowl made from a hollowed out fruit, such as a watermelon or pineapple, other more indulgent and popular examples of fair cuisine included: lobster fries, the deep fried pastrami pizza and the chocolate bacon wrapped peanut butter cup and the bacon-wrapped corn on the cob.

New food excitement at the California State Fair was not limited to the usual fair food vendor suspects. The fair hired an official State Fair Chef, Keith Breedlove. "His personality attracted large crowds for his cooking demonstrations in our Farm and Kitchen areas," said Castleberry. Most of the ingredients used by the newly appointed chef were fresh California produce, bringing added attention to the agricultural mission of this annual Golden State event. The fair has a 3.5 acre demonstration farm, where much of Chef Breedlove's ingredients were grown. "The Food Network also filmed an episode featuring him during the Fair," said Castleberry. 

Also new for the fair was the first Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition, which was included tastings and educational information about this growing segment of California's agricultural industry. " PBS' America's Heartland did a feature episode on California's Olive Oil industry, featuring our competition," Castleberry added. 

Butler Midway
It was the seventh year for Butler Amusements to provide the California State Fair midway, which featured 70 rides. According to the fair, midway sales were up 13.5 percent from 2014, reaching $4,651,109, an increase of $556,013. "The final Saturday of the Fair proved to be the largest grossing day for the carnival in the history of the California State Fair," said Castleberry.

"We had a great fair, and the biggest single day gross in our history at the California State Fair," said Lance Moyer, COO of Butler Amusements. 
The most effective promotion was a $2 day, which considering the robust fairgoer turnout, Moyer said "our traffic was up substantially, but it also spread the crowd out throughout the fair."

Butler Amusements also had a pay one price wristband every day of the fair - $30 per weekday/$35 weekends - "we are getting more customers for the pay one price promotion, so we are now doing it every day of the fair," said Moyer. 

He added that the 2015 season has been a positive one for the midway. "It's been a really good year, grosses have been up, attendance has been up," he said. 

Drought Policies
 Of course, the inescapable California fact this summer is its severe drought and water shortage. New water conservation measure were more noticeable this year, such as the Fair's main lagoon was not filled for the first time, except for one portion,  "filled a foot deep and was used to showcase two 120 foot long Chinese dragon lanterns. The other section was dry and home to the FMX motorcycle show," said Castleberry.

In addition, while the fair did permit the midway to have a Flume Log Ride and Splash Dog Pool, most the water used "was recycled" throughout the fairgrounds. The California State Fair also utilized the large water amounts in the Butler Amusement log ride and the Splash Dogs pool.  "The fair made an effort to use and/or re-use every drop of water," said Castleberry.

Mainly, the fair became an education and information center for the current state of the drought. "The California State Fair used the on-going drought for positive educational messaging," said Castleberry. The Fair pushed water conservation throughout the Fairgrounds including the livestock pavilions, around grassy areas that had turned golden (i.e., no longer green) because of the water restrictions." 

"We wish to thank the public for its overwhelming support of the California State Fair," said Rick Pickering, CEO of the California Exposition & State Fair. "The 2015 State Fair, through such themes as education, competition, technology, food, water conservation, entertainment and celebration, further showcased the ever growing leadership role that Californians play in our region, nation and world."





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