Not when it comes to the 137th Maryland State Fair, whose 2018 marketing campaign proudly broadcasted the annual celebration of everything Maryland’s commitment to culture. In fact, the entire advertising campaign was highly multicultural.
Multi-fair-cultural that is. This year’s tagline was “More Than A Fair, We’re A Culture,” and when used various ads on multiple platforms, the word culture was linked to the many activities the fair is known for – AgriCULTURE, HorseCULTURE, RideCULTURE, HortiCULTURE, FoodCULTURE, VitiCULTURE, and FriendlyCompetitionCULTURE. Graphics for the fair would tie the specific “Cultures” to iconic fair imagery, such as a cowboy boot or Ferris wheel.
According to Andrew “Andy” Cashman, the idea came up internally and they worked with an ad agency on the creative and placement. The graphic use of “culture” text also lent itself to clever use on many platforms. “We used culture with different words, we liked the look and sound of it and we used it through all our advertising, social media, print and commercials.”
The culture as suffix tagline highlighted the numerous components that make the Maryland State Fair a fun, educational, relevant, popular, and integral community event. The fair also expanded the promotional possibilities of the tagline to include a pre-fair scavenger hunt and other social media contests. “We did more contests and games,” he said. “We had a scavenger hunt in every county in the state, which was a little of bit of an adventure, and drove people to buy tickets. We also had trivia contests.”
The fair’s media mix was about the same as last year’s, with a heavy use of social media, internet advertising and radio. “Print continues to go down,” he said. “We have adjusted to a new world of reaching millennials who read their newspaper on their phone and listen to the radio with earbuds from their phone.” He added that the advertising budget was about $100,000, about the same as last year.”
The 2018 marketing campaign reaped rewards. Attendance reached 572,008, an increase of approximately three percent compared to 2017. The weather had some heatwave moments but was generally cooperative. “The excellent weather during the first weekend of the Fair and the return of schools after Labor Day increased our attendance and reduced the stress on our 4-H/FFA and Open Class livestock exhibitors, staff, and leadership who previously had to juggle schedules to participate in the Fair,” said Cashman.
He added that although a few days reached around 95 degrees, “we had very good attendance and we gave a lot of use to our air conditioned buildings.”
In addition to the attendance uptick, spending seemed robust indicating that the 2018 economy shows an improvement over last year. “Our concessionaires are reporting very good sales. We also sold more livestock this year than last year. It was a good year for the sponsorships, which were sold out this year.”
The fair’s music “CULTURE” also had a healthy year. Its LIVE! OnTrack! Concert Series – presented by M&T Bank – had two sold-out concerts: Country Sensation Chris Janson and Pop Band Smash Mouth as well as good selling concerts by Country Artists Chase Bryant and Chris Lane and the legendary Jefferson Starship. In addition, the Maryland State Fair Park Free Stage featured more than 20 local acts and a Latino Festival.
Admittedly, the free shows at the state fair “are easier to book, and people come out for the local bands. Our Latino Festival, which was held on a Sunday, the music was on the free stage. People came out. It was a very good day; we had some concessionaires with Latino food who did very well. “It was as difficult and costly to get name bands this year as it was last year,” said Cashman. “With some of the bigger acts, people commit to the fair by buying tickets. You can’t knock it when that big name brings in people.”
Midway revenue was up from last year, according to Cashman. The midway is provided by Deggeller Attractions and featured an expanded Kiddie Land. The midway had 44 rides, according to Cashman, which include a new for the fair Enterprise and Dragon Coaster. Fair favorites included Riptide Roller Coaster, The Hydra, Traffic Jam, Hang Ten, YoYo and Cliffhanger. “Our rides and amusements have come a long way over the years from greased pole climbs and sack races to a Midway with a variety of rides for children, adults and adventure seekers of all ages,” said Cashman. “And, no matter how popular the new high tech rides are, the Merry-Go-Rounds and Ferris Wheels maintain their position as the all-time favorite rides of fair history.”
There were 42 food vendors at the fair, with new food offerings being a Barbecue Sunday featuring pulled-pork.
The most popular food item is the signature dish -the Crabby Patty, a Maryland crab cake topped with a soft shell crab on a fresh bun. This top selling item was a specialty of the Maryland Foods Pavilion, featured on foodnetwork.com and according to a fair press release, was named by people.com as one of “The Craziest Fair Foods You Can Find at State Fairs across America.”
Fair foods and the regional dairy industry received special attention 2018 with the Undeniably Dairy Celebrity Milkshake Contest hosted by American Dairy Association North East, Maryland Farm Bureau Young Farmers and the Maryland State Fair.
The contest was between who made the better milkshake, and competitors included a team made up of former Ravens player Qadry Ismail and former Eagles player Jason Avant going milkshake to milkshake against WMAR-TV 2 Anchor Team Skyler Henry & Mallory Sofastii and Dairy Farmer Team Mackenzie Underwood & Tracey Edmundson. Reports indicate that the TV Anchor Team won the contest with a salted caramel milkshake.
Perhaps the most vivid and longstanding “CULTURE” at the Maryland Fair is its HorseCULTURE, which continues to be a powerful focus of the fair. The fair is known by equestrian aficionados world-wide for its horse shows, and live Thoroughbred Horse Racing. According to Cashman, racing actually precedes the fair, and the fairgrounds features one of the oldest tracks in the U.S, dating back to 1879. “We have a lot of history with horses, and it continues to grow. People love to stand right near the track, meet the riders , it a very neat event for kids and families.”
Did the 2018 Maryland State Fair exceed expectations? “We had a good fair,” said Cashman. “Attendance was up. I love hearing fair stories from people, who have been coming to the fair. Families celebrating the tradition together, that makes the fair successful. We live and die by the weather, but the heat was hard to deal with. But we had a little better attendance.”
He added, “what really makes the fair different is our agriculture, our 5,000 home arts entries, and our 4000 livestock entries. The agriculture industry is the biggest industry in Maryland, and we’re proud of that. There are a lot of traditions here.”
In fact, traditions may be the biggest “CULTURE” at the 2018 Maryland State Fair.