Post 9/11 strategy: Theme parks find success targeting regional audiences

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For this first summer post 9/11, theme parks have targeted summer ad campaigns at people within driving distance of the parks, a tactic that appears to be working.

Theme-park operators, tapping into Americans' yearnings for familiarity and family time, reported record-high attendance for Fourth of July weekend. That follows a trend of increased attendance for the first half of the year, thanks to a strategic move to heavily advertise to regional audiences.

Goldman Sachs leisure analyst Chris Cox believes regional marketing is the way to go this year. "So far, in the season-to-date, things are going OK at regional theme parks," Mr. Cox said. "What we and the parks are realizing is that families want to be together now. It makes perfect sense that parks are targeting people within driving distance, given people's current travel fears and fears of terrorism."

Universal Studios Hollywood attributes its recent success to strong advertising aimed at locals, said Brian Pope, VP-marketing services and brand marketing. "Our summer strategy is to target locals within the five-county Southern California area and people who are already vacationing in the area," he said.

He noted that about one-third of the park's ads, which are created by Cimarron Group, Los Angeles, target Latinos.

In early May, Universal Studios Orlando launched an ad campaign called "Universal Rules," targeted specifically at Florida residents. The park's national ad campaign, created by David & Goliath, Los Angeles, has the tagline "A vacation from the ordinary," which started during the Super Bowl and ran through June.

spending up

"`These ads were aimed specifically at tourists, so we try to show them a variety of attractions," said Gretchen Hoffman, senior VP-marketing at Universal Studios Orlando. The resort spent $30 million on ads in the first half of this year, which she said is up 20% over last year.

Six Flags theme parks' summer ad campaign is tagged, "So Big. So Close," emphasizing that anyone in the continental U.S. is within a day's drive of one of the 28 Six Flags' parks.

"Due to the 9/11 tragedy, I think we have an advantage being a regional, local park," said Hank Salemi, VP-marketing. "You don't have to get on a plane to come see us."

Ackerman McQueen, Oklahoma City, created the campaign, which features pop singers such as Sugar Ray and Willa Ford experiencing different Six Flags attractions. The commercials began in April and will run into August in 77 U.S. markets. According to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR, it spent more than $45 million in advertising last year.

think local

Busch Gardens decided this summer that areas within a 500 to 600 mile radius of its two amusement parks, three Sea Worlds, Discovery Cove and Sesame Place would be targeted.

"People's travel patterns have changed," said Michael LaBroad, senior VP-marketing for Busch Entertainment Corp. "But not their willingness and desire to travel. ... so our parks are faring extremely well." Mr. LaBroad said Busch Gardens saw increased attendance during all major holidays this year compared with last year. Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, Chicago, created spot TV and radio, outdoor and newspaper ads for Busch Gardens amusement parks and for Discovery Cove, while Interpublic Group of Cos.' Campbell-Ewald, Detroit, created the campaign for Sea World.

Walt Disney Co.'s Walt Disney World launched its largest ad campaign ever last October with a budget of more than $250 million. Last year the park spent $97 million on measured media, according to CMR. This campaign, created by Bcom3 Group's Leo Burnett, Chicago, is focused on "100 Years of Magic," a 15-month celebration of Walt Disney's 100th birthday.

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