More is never enough. When it comes to marketing and promotion, the State Fair Meadowlands in New Jersey did not just increase outreach, but took a more innovative approach. Combined with a more effective layout for the fair and de-emphasizing music in favor of family centric attractions, presenting a new promotional profile for this Garden State extravaganza seemed to do the trick.
Key to overhauling this profile was bringing the creative in-house. The other was to cast as wide a net as possible. “We have a full marketing staff, it’s all in-house, including the creative and we have social media managers,” said Al Dorso, president of State Fair Event Management. We’ve changed everything, we have video snippets, live action. Nobody wants to read, so we just use snippets. We do tweets every night, we have people roving the ground.”
Covering The Gamut
In addition to quality and constancy, “we covered the gamut, Facebook, You Tube, Snapchat, Instagram, you name it.”
The most innovative though was the use of a relatively new social media marketing tool, Geofencing – which sets up a virtual perimeter around a location, expanding the reach of event attendee posting. Or as Dorso explained, “Geofencing surrounded the fair and pictures were shared an all our social media platforms.”
Online advertising now dominates the advertising budget of the State Fair Meadowlands. Print is under 5 percent, with the local newspaper advertising also containing a web component. In addition, the fair also uses radio and television. The one expansion of ‘old’ media – with a palatable social media twist – for the were digital billboards. Not only were the numbers and placements of billboards increased to include locations in train stations, transit hubs and shopping malls, but were connected to the Geofencing social media platforms. “We had thousands of shares, and people were able to see the shared pictures in the malls, and every picture had a small advertisement for the fair. It was very inexpensive to do.”
Digital billboards weren’t only an extension of the Geofencing initiative. One of the fair’s more clever billboard advertisements featured a woman pulling a donkey with the tagline “Get your ass to the fair.”
Dorso added a new twist to Groupon, by offering a VIP option. In addition to a 30 percent discount, the fair offered a VIP medallion, which riders wore around their necks, allowing them cut to the front of any ride line. Groupon sales increased over previous years. In fact, demand had risen so fast the fair increased the allotment sold under the Groupon contract. The increase in sales surprised even Dorso, “it was a perceived value.” But as he pointed out, he was able to make the package more appealing without any expenditure beyond the plastic medallion people wore – it cost the fair nothing to give somebody the privilege going to the front of line.
The weather essentially cooperated for the 18-day event. Attendance was up by 6 percent, with two days being record attendance days, where attendance exceeded 30,000. Five days had rain, but the rain was generally “just before or after opening, those days were light,” he said. “The rain in New Jersey was weird this year, it wouldn’t rain all day or night, just showers, but that was enough to keep people away. We also had one day that was 105 degrees. Predominantly we had good attendance when we had weather.”
More Children’s Rides
State Fair Meadowlands has an independent midway, featuring 77 rides, 32 of which were children’s rides, which was expanded by two rides compared to last year. Two Big Wheels, the Crazy Mouse and the Sky Ride were the top grossing rides. Ride gross was up 5 percent, said Dorso, as was revenue overall for the fair. Some of this bottom line boost can be attributed to a dollar increase in the fair admission price, which seemed to have no effect on attendance.
“There’s more jobs out there, people are working,” said Dorso. “New Jersey is a tough state, it can be expensive, but there is definitely a different attitude this year, it seems people are out there spending. People stayed longer, they didn’t run out of money. We did a little bit of exit poll, there were no complaints about the gate price.”
Dorso cut down on the live music, replacing the acts with more attractions, a mix of returning favorites and new acts. “I’m done with the music acts and the stage unions,” he said. “You could double your entertainment budget and they are not the draw.”
The acts included: The Steve Bayner Hypnotist Show, Rosaire’s Royal Racing Pigs; Extreme Illusions & Escapes; Arctic Olympic High Dive Show; Sea Lion Splash; Cycle Circus Live; Belmont Festival Of Magic; Art Of Magic and Commerford’s Educational Petting Zoo & Animal Ride.
This entertainment shift was also due to the fact that not only are families on the rise as fairgoers, but the families are more multiculturay diverse. Music tends to target one ethnic group, but racing pigs or hypnotists appeal to all families. “Entertainment satisfies a wider spectrum,” he said. “Our customers are now predominantly families, and they are coming in larger groups. It’s really mixed, Indian, Spanish, Hassidic Jews. They all love any entertainment geared towards kids.”
In addition, the fair featured 65 food vendors. While no trend was noticeable, new vendors included a Mexican Stand and an ice cream vendor that sold rolled ice cream – rolled sheets of ice cream packed with syrups, nuts and other fillings. “I never saw that before,” said Dorso, a long time fair manager. According to the website, “There are over 185,000 zeppoles; 50,000 corn dogs and over 17,000 bags of cotton candy sold at the fair annually.”
The fair redesigned its layout, which actually alleviated a social media kerfuffle. There had been concerns about fair safety, mainly due to a fight that broke out two years ago. It was a minor altercation between two teenagers, no one was injured, but the video went viral. Last year, several comments were posted on Facebook. The fair is held in MetLife Stadium, and this year the entrance to the fair was changed so that fairgoers entered immediately at the stadium gates, as opposed to a long walkway to the entrance. Fairgoers had to pass through the stadium’s metal detectors. But, this new layout also meant a repositioning of the EMTs, Firemen and State Troopers and their vehicles.
It’s not as if these security and safety personnel were absent from previous fairs. In fact, they are always there and their presence was not significantly expanded from last year. The difference was visibility. The first responders and their mobile units – ambulances, police cars and fire trucks – were essentially the first thing every attendee saw upon entering the gates.
“We always had them, but we kept them in the background,” said Dorso. “We took some social media grief, there were rumblings that they had no presence. We made them more obvious this year. People were taking pictures with the emergency personnel and state troopers.”