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Published: Tuesday, 7/21/2009

Ohio State Fair pulling out all the stops to lure visitors

BY KATHY LYNN GRAY
COLUMBUS DISPATCH

COLUMBUS - The Ohio State Fair is tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, MySpacing, and even doing a little old-fashioned print, radio, and television advertising to lure Cincinnatians, Clevelanders, and Toledoans to Columbus this year.

Hooking its star to the "staycation" wagon, the annual agricultural/carnival bash is promoting heavily to lure people outside central Ohio to the fair, which runs July 29 to Aug. 9.

The fair is spending more than 35 percent of its advertising dollars outside Columbus, compared with less than 20 percent in the past. Besides traditional fairgoers, the fair's targets are people who can't or won't take vacations because of the economy and instead are taking one-day minivacations, dubbed "staycations."

The ad campaign is all about value. One ad focuses on a mom who's a "coupon queen" - it touts lots of special deals for the fair."Value has always been our core," said Christina Leeds, the fair's public-relations director.

Board member Tom Jackson added that in a soft economy, it costs less to advertise, so the fair can buy more publicity.

"Right now, the economy is our friend," Mr. Jackson said.

New this year are more than 40 coupons on the fair's Web site. The coupons don't cost concessionaires anything, so many have signed up to offer a variety of discounts, Ms. Leeds said. Those include a free soft drink with purchase of a meal, $2 off beef jerky, and a free highlighter for those who try out a massage chair.

The fair had hoped to allow fairgoers to upload the coupons to cell phones, but the technology couldn't be worked out this year.

The fair publicity machine also is pumping out "tweets" from its Twitter social-networking site, which has more than 1,000 followers. The fair also is writing updates on its Facebook and MySpace pages, as well as writing a blog on Google's Blogger site.

Fair director Virgil Strickler said carnival operators have told him they're getting big crowds at other fairs as long as the weather's good. "I believe, from everything we're seeing, we should see a good gate," Mr. Strickler said.

Sponsors are offering special admission on 11 of the 12 days of the fair, including $4 tickets for Kroger customers on July 30 and $3.50 admissions for anyone with a non-winning Ohio Lottery ticket on Aug. 7.



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