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Expanded Marketing Reach Boots Delaware State Fair
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The Delaware State Fair turns 100 next year. In addition to promoting this year’s event, marketing the 99th also needed to build momentum towards next year’s centennial fair.

Your Summer Destination was the 2018 marketing slogan for this celebration of everything Delaware, an effective phrase that invoked the seasonal traditions and annual nostalgia and their consistent appeal to consumers. It’s a marketing theme that easily lends itself to highlighting the outdoor concerts, farm exhibits, fun foods and midway thrills and all the other components that draw fairgoers to the 10-day event.

Clever taglines alone do not an effective marketing campaign make. The marketing campaign and its destination agenda intended to widen the reach of the Delaware State fair, taking “tourism approach,” said Danny Aguilar, Assistant General Manager and Director of Marketing. “We wanted to drive curiosity from Pennsylvania and Maryland.”

Expanded Reach
According to Aguilar, about 21 percent of attendees come from Maryland and 3 percent from Pennsylvania, segments of the fairgoer population he sought to pump up. The bulk of the fairgoers come from Delaware and Virginia and the market area is called the Delmarva (Delaware/Maryland/Virginia) Peninsula “We worked with our Tourism department and reached to these areas, building on the fair as a July tradition.”

This outreach to outlying market areas for the fair was led mainly by radio buys, especially to promote the headline entertainment, such as country music superstar Toby Keith. The driving force of this year’s marketing was a social media. “We did some radio buys with country radio stations, but we did very aggressive Facebook marketing,” he said. This marketing including a range of promotions, from ticket giveaways to special Facebook Live Segments to online games of fair-oriented Plinko, the Price is Right game. This created new marketing energy for 2018 and while effectiveness of social media marketing – how it directly translates into ticket sales can sometimes be difficult to accurately determine – Aguilar pointed out that “looking at the analytics that Facebook now has, you see the reach of your advertising and promotions, who is being reached and where they live.”

Aguilar prefers radio and digital advertising mainly due to the data generated. “You do a radio buy and you have Arbitron Ratings to go on, but with the digital information, you have analytics that can show the click-throughs. You get better marketing tools that you can use. It’s a better use of the advertising dollars because of the data.”

The marketing did seem to have a positive result – 291,316 fairgoers attended this year’s edition of the Delaware State Fair, a 2 percent increase over last year’s attendance numbers.

Attendance was squelched somewhat due to some wet weather days, which included a record deluge on the first Saturday – forcing the fair to not open – then rainy weather that continued off and on until the last weekend when the weather broke for the better, drawing record attendance the last day of fair. “The famous American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said: ‘Into every Fair some rain must fall,” said Aguilar in an official press release.

Midway Long View
Instead of classic American Poetry to sum up the Delaware State Fair Frank Zaitshik, CEO, Wade Shows, found Shakespeare more appropriate – “All’s well that ends well,” he said. “It started great, that Thursday we were up substantially, but we never opened that Saturday, and that impacted us, but Sunday we were up substantially and that kept us even with 2017.”

Even though the precipitation caused ridership to under-perform in regards to the attendance uptick, Zaitshik took the long view about his partnership with one of the major fairs in the Mid-Atlantic region. “In reviewing the numbers of the last five years, in spite of the poor weather this year and last year, we are actually up and we did set an all-time record on the closing Saturday, and we were up by a mile. We consider our relationship with Delaware to be very successful”

Zaitshik credited much of this success to the management behind the fair, especially their 2018 marketing strategies. “They are very knowledgeable and proactive in their use of social media. They are one of the finest in the combination of the technologically savvy and marketing their fair. They’ve always been ahead of the curve.

The Wade Shows midway featured 56 rides, with top grossing super-spectacular class rides such as The Big Wheel, the RC-48 steel roller coaster and the Delusion. In addition, Zaitshik said that after a few seasons of hiatus, the midway brought back the Mega Drop and the children’s favorite Beach Shack. The midway provider is also touring a completely retrofitted and refurbished Hydro Shock as a highlight of its 2018 offerings.

Robust Entertainment
In addition to Toby Keith, which drew the biggest crowds to the fair’s M&T Bank Grandstand entertainment schedule, the lineup also included Brett Eldredge, Chris Young, Jeff Dunham, Lauren Daigle, a Southern Rock package featuring the Outlaws, Marshall Tucker Band, Charlie Daniels Band and Travis Tritt – as well as a Monster Truck/FMX Show and a sold out Demolition Derby. “The blend of great entertainment offered in and outside of the M&T Bank Grandstand continued to show why the Delaware State Fair, after 99 years, is consistently considered to be one of the best summer destinations for great entertainment on Delmarva,” he said.

Booking entertainment remains a challenge – although this year has not gotten more difficult than last year. “The term challenge is very appropriate, but it was about the same difficulty as 2017,” said Aguilar. “It’s about supply and demand, and how the routing fits within our 10-day window. We were able to get top level entertainment, and we were able to deliver the audience. Music is a big part of our fair, we are known for it.”

In addition to the M&T Bank Grandstand, the fair increased its free entertainment, adding a Camel Show, Hollywood Circus and a temporary stage with free music. “We continue to offer unique entertainment opportunities with great experiences for our patrons like VIP packages, Beer & Wine Gardens, live entertainment throughout the grounds, amazing food, shopping and entertainment for kids of all ages,” said Aguilar.

Although final sales figures are still being crunched, Aguilar said that food sales are showing an increase. The fair featured about 75 food venues, with traditional fair cuisine such as funnel cakes, “exciting folks,” said Aguilar. But also gaining new foodie followings was a deep fried taco and lobster rolls. “There was huge conversations about the tacos and the lobster rolls were a big it,” he added. “Seafood is a big deal around here, folks love good quality seafood.”
An advanced marketing program, robust entertainment and strong midway have effectively positioned the Delaware State Fair for its upcoming centennial. For Aguilar, it is about keeping true to the roots of the fair while keeping the product fresh and relevant to fairgoers. “The balance is to stay true to traditions of the fair while exceeding the growing expectations of our guests. You want to take them back with the unique food and quality entertainment, but you have to keep looking at your amenities and your offerings.”
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