Marketing Matters: Attention, Please!

by Steve Cony

You send your camp’s story into a veritable jungle of competing messages that bombard every parent and every child with whom you correspond. If your brochures, videos, and Web site do not capture your prospects’ attention, interest, and imagination, they have not fulfilled their primary function. You must get their attention first, long before you close a sale.

Attention Getters

There are many ways you can make sure your marketing materials grab the attention of your audience. You just need to set your camp apart from all the rest.

Dare to be different
Traditions should be maintained around the campfire, not on the pages of your brochure or Web site. There should be no standard whatsoever for camp brochures, camp videos, or any camp marketing materials. Put your feet up and think of the advertising messages you remember most vividly and use them as guidelines for your camp’s marketing.

Discover the good in “World of Good”
ACA’s “Camp Gives Kids a World of Good” message can function strongly to differentiate your camp and boost perceptions of your camp’s value. Find the relevance of the “World of Good” message to your specific program and make sure that families understand your camp is more than friends and physical skills.

Focus on one message
Rather than trying to describe every acre of your property and everything that happens there, concentrate on a message that cannot be missed, can be understood quickly, and can be easily remembered. Simplicity is key to retention. Yet brochure after brochure and Web site after Web site move the reader quickly into suffocating details about the daily operation of the camp. At first exposure, prospects want to know what you stand for, not how many nurses are on site or the precise height of your climbing wall.

Use wit and humor
Humor is one of the most popular tactics used by advertisers, and camp — that thing that makes kids laugh and play throughout the summer — is the best product to market with humor.

The use of wit in advertising is an excellent strategy to create reader or viewer involvement with the message. The advertiser who uses wit never travels 100 percent of the way to the audience but rather forces the audience to participate in order to unlock the puzzle and thus get the idea. Humor forces a heightened need for alertness on the part of the reader or viewer; your audience becomes a part of your communication.

Be careful, however, not to set out with the specific objective of being funny. Instead, set out to be interesting. Then, if humor surfaces as the best strategy to build interest, it will fulfill the proper role.

Keep Your Message Simple

When you sit down to write anything about your camp, think about the power of the stop sign. It has no introduction. It has no explanation. It requires neither. When you approach that red octagon, it does not say, “Kindly bring the vehicle to a speed not exceeding zero miles per hour at this precise coordinate in space and time, as there may very well be other traffic — vehicular and/or pedestrian in nature — traveling in a direction opposed to yours that may very well intersect with the current path of your own vehicle.” It just says, “Stop.” And you do it.

Where is your stop sign?
A simple message is more believable; it gives readers and/or viewers less to criticize and ponder. There is a time and a place for all the details about which parents ask, but it is not while you are simply trying to attract attention and interest. Get close to closing the sale — then get into all those details. Remember that the function of your front-line marketing materials is to get prospects interested in your camp.

Use simple graphics
Simplicity in graphic design means giving the reader or viewer a dominant image — a place to start. Too many camp brochures use the 100 percent collage technique, splattering dozens of small photos together with no logical point of focus for the eye. Look at good magazine advertisements, and you will see dominant images, bold headlines, and lots of white space. Your brochure cover is your advertisement. It is the image of your camp that sits most continuously on your prospects’ coffee tables or kitchen tables.

If you keep your own message simple, your message will inevitably stand out among the clutter of other camp’s complex and convoluted versions of what camp is all about. Kids think uncomplicated thoughts about their camp experiences. Why confuse the issue?

Choosing the right camp for a child is indeed a worthwhile endeavor. But if you think that camp is the most ponderous decision a family will ever make — lighten up! Speaking of lightening up, you need to remind yourself of a healthy perspective about camp. Yes, camp can be many or even all the points in the “World of Good” platform. Yes, you do some pretty impressive things for campers when you’re having a good day. Sometimes, you even create defining moments in children’s lives. But it’s still good ol’ camp, and you need to fill your marketing tools with the smiles, laughter, and excitement that abound at your facility.

Bad news and good news
The bad news: Families are hardly ever out there waiting breathlessly for your package. Yes, they may have requested it, but it arrives with the rest of the mail on just one more hectic day to be digested on the fly by variously fractionated family units.

The good news: When you sit down to create your message, you start with an absolutely blank page. You have the opportunity to be different, to do the things it takes to grab more attention than others, and to thereby give camp a bigger share of mind than it occupied before your message arrived. Now, go for it!

Steve Cony is a marketing consultant who assists children's camps with the development of strategic plans and the execution of marketing materials. Camp directors may contact him at 914-271-8482.

Originally published in the 2000 January/February issue of Camping Magazine.