Port Ads Create Advertising Beef and Buzz at Utah State Fair

15 Nov

A cracker stacking contest at the Utah State Fair.

Attendance was down but revenues were up at this year’s Utah State Fair, Sept. 9-19. Attendance was 292,000, compared to 310,000 last year, said Denise Allen, marketing and PR director.

“But as far as revenues, they were up,” she said, noting that overall fair revenues were up 7 percent across the board.

Part of that increase came from the decision by officials to raise gate admission $1 to $9 for adults. The move raised an additional six percent in gate revenues over last year, Allen said.

But the revenue boosts were eclipsed by a series of high profile ads featuring a sultry soul singer crooning his love for funnel cakes and pork products.

The ads were created by Utah native son Jared Hess, director of the quirky 2004 sleeper hit film “Napoleon Dynamite.” Hess made two television ads for the fair that some found to be over the top. The fair’s board of directors made the decision to pull the ads.

The ads cost $18,000 to make, Allen said. They can be viewed on YouTube by typing in “Utah State Fair ads.”

After three or four days, the board of directors pulled the ads and now has a new rule that board members must approve television advertising, Allen said. Marketing officials took an advertising spot from 2008 and adjusted the art card with the dates at the end and ran it in place of the Hess-produced commercials.

The fair received additional publicity from pulling the ads. “They say any publicity is good publicity,” Allen said.

A few people e-mailed in to say they would not be attending the fair because of the odd ads, while officials got more feedback in favor of the spots.

“It did its job in attracting the younger demographic and, surprisingly, had support from seniors,” Allen said. “Many seniors found it very entertaining.”

Hess also benefited from the controversy and was hired to direct a Toyota commercial because of it, Allen said.

Fair officials also had to deal with a major management change: former GM Rick Frenette left in February to return to his home state of Wisconsin and helm the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis. Judy Duncombe, a 26-year Utah State Fair veteran and most recently assistant general manager, is serving as acting general manager, Allen said. The board is looking for a full time manager to fill the position.

The implementation of a new ticketing system was well under way prior to Frenette’s departure, Allen said. “It’s been in the works for three years. Finally, we had it in the budget to go to a ticketing system that did a scan.”

Fair officials researched three ticketing systems and chose 1-800-Tickets, Allen said.

In addition to traditional media, the Utah State Fair also had a presence on Facebook and Twitter and used ticket contests not only to drive fairgoers to Facebook, but also to the fair’s website, where they could find the answers to the questions.

The marketing budget for the $1 million fair was $250,000, while the entertainment budget was $350,000, Allen said. One paid concert in the 4,000-seat DIRECTV Grandstand – a new sponsorship for the fair – was MercyMe, a ticketed event costing $25 that also included gate admission.

Austin, Texas-based Mighty Thomas Carnival placed 30 rides on the midway. Pay one price wristbands could be purchased daily for $25.

Next year’s dates are Sept. 8-18. – Mary Wade Burnside

Interviewed for this article: Denise Allen, (801) 538-8400.



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