Fairs' consumer attendance, stable for many years, is increasing again, according to the International Association of Fairs & Expositions. In addition, the boom in mobile marketing is now drawing more national companies to fairs, where a brand can be exposed to as many as 1 million consumers during a fair's duration.
With an average ticket price of about $3.50 per day, the nation's 3,238 state and county fairs remain one of the least expensive of consumer attractions, and people tend to spend more time at a fair than at many sporting events that have much higher ticket prices, said Lewis Miller, director of the Springfield, Mo.-based IAFE. He estimates fairs draw a total of 150 million people each year, rivaling all events associated with Major League Baseball.
MILLIONS OF FAIRGOERS
There are 10 fairs in the U.S. that lure about 1 million consumers each during their duration; most fairs get about 800,000 visitors, and the Texas State Fair boasts more than 3 million, according research by Event Marketing Strategies, Columbus, Ohio.
"A very diverse spectrum of people comes to fairs, from the young to the old, and a lot of families, who happen to be prime targets of marketers," Mr. Miller said.
Marketers have become extremely competitive about staking out turf at fairs, and details about on-site marketing for the upcoming season of July through October are still unavailable. Managers of top state fairs including Ohio, Texas and Virginia refused to disclose this year's on-site marketing details.
Marketers frequently offering on-site marketing activities at major state fairs include Nestle USA's Friskies, which has set up petting zoos at fairs in recent years; as well as McDonald's Corp., Pillsbury Co.'s Old El Paso, Pizza Hut and Tropicana Products.
Another area of growth in marketing at fairs is car dealers, who are successfully negotiating with fairs for expanded display space and the opportunity to do test drives nearby, said Event Marketing Strategies President Jeff Milgrom.
"Fairs are a great way to hit a vast amount of people, and unlike some other venues, people come to fairs with an open mind and with the expectation that they're going to be intercepted," said Steve Randazzo, president of mobile marketing company Pro Motion, St. Louis. "It's much easier to get through to consumers at a fair when they're moving slowly, exploring and willing to spend time with us, vs. trying to get their attention at a public venue where their minds are elsewhere."
Fair managers charge site fees ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars for mobile marketing presence, as well as on-site presence such as signage or co-promotions, but some mobile marketing companies are ambushing fairs when marketing budgets are lean.
"Fair managers may not like it, but a mobile marketing operation can ambush the event -- be near a fair without paying fees and still get lots of traffic and see a lot of people without actually violating any rules," Mr. Randazzo said.
Fairs often cut their own deals with marketers, but Event Marketing Strategies has become the leading specialist at providing turnkey access for marketers to fairs, through a network it's created consisting of 60 major fairs nationwide.
"Traditionally, fair managers have been reluctant to participate in marketing co-promotions involving discounts on fair admission prices, but a growing number of fairs are starting to be more flexible toward marketers' needs, and they're willing to do more ticket tie-ins," Mr. Milgrom said.
Examples include cross-promotions involving an in-store promotion boosting the fair, giving consumers a discount on admission fees with a proof-of-purchase or coupon.
REGIONAL MARKETING PUSHES
Prices for on-site marketing at fairs range from around $15,000 to $75,000, and most national marketers allocate funds through regional marketing programs, Mr. Milgrom said, explaining a marketer typically will choose half a dozen fairs for a major regional presence each summer.
"The unusual thing about marketing at fairs is that there are many sub-events within the main fair, so there are specific things for men, women, kids and senior citizens," Mr. Milgrom noted. "One member of the family might be at the tractor pull, while someone else is looking at computers. It's one of the most diverse events in the world."