After turning the QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning into a gathering that draws 165,000 people annually, a pair of event marketing experts have expanded their formula to two other states and plan to add more locations.
Festival Group taps a regional supermarket chain as title sponsor of each balloon event, and package-goods marketers get opportunities for promotions, couponing, sampling and on-site displays.
In-store promotions at the retailer begin three to 10 weeks before each event, and each festival benefits a different charity. Retailer promotions offer free tickets, while the stores sell nearly half the tickets for the festival in advance at a discount.
The sky seems to be the limit when it comes to the shape of marketers' balloons. Balloons at Festival Group events have included a 160-foot Energizer bunny, a Planters Mr. Peanut, a Ben & Jerry's ice cream container, the head of Kellogg Co.'s Tony the Tiger and one shaped like a box of Procter & Gamble Co.'s Pampers diapers.
A FULL DAY OF FESTING
"Families tend to spend the entire day at the festival, experiencing balloon rides, arts and crafts activities, contests, and a lot of interaction with package-goods marketers in a totally unique atmosphere," said Howard Freeman, co-partner with John Korff in Festival Group, West Caldwell, N.J.
Festival Group's first QuickChek event was in 1993. It expanded to Long Island, N.Y., in 1998, adding the Waldbaum's Balloon & Music Fest. Last year, it launched the Big Bear Balloon Festival in Columbus, Ohio.
"The festival lets our store make a big statement in the community, plus our vendors get a chance to showcase products and key executives get to go up in a balloon," said Les Knox, senior VP-chief marketing officer of Syracuse, N.Y.-based Pentraffic, Big Bear's parent.
Each festival offers all-day entertainment for about $10 per person, with performers including the Beach Boys, Doobie Brothers, Village People and Clint Black; the same bands and balloons travel to each of Festival Group's events.
"Airports and cities around the U.S. are asking us to add more festivals, but we don't want to expand too fast," Mr. Freeman said. "We're taking a slow, carefully managed approach to growth."