Marketing Matters: Lessons from the Super-Market

by Steve Cony

Camp professionals can learn much from this year's Super Bowl XXXIV but not necessarily about the sports skills or the sportsmanship. There was far more to analyze in the strategies, the playmaking, and the utilization of resources — not among the coaches and the players but among the advertisers.

Let's explore some observations that have relevance to camp marketing.

Marketing Is Still Valuable

#1: The marketplace is not becoming numb to marketing overall, and marketing efforts are not losing their value.

Superbowl XXXIV attracted more viewers than its predecessor did a year earlier — and achieved this in a year when neither team was from one of the nation's largest cities. Why the still-growing audience? Several marketing experts claim that heightened interest in the commercials themselves — rather than the usually-ho-hum game — is continuing to build the annual audiences for the spectacle. In short, whether you like it or not, advertising has not gone out of style.

Take Time to Craft Your Message

#2: Many of the high-stakes advertisers were neophytes who plunged in ill-prepared — and executed belly flops.

A bevy of brand-new advertisers, principally dot-coms that thought the name of the game was to attract attention by any means whatsoever, bought airtime. They had the part about attracting attention right, but then too many rushed into the creative process carelessly. They failed to go for attention that was relevant to the product and, thus, would lead viewers to form a relationship between the message and the sponsor.

Build Name Recognition

#3: Too many of these new advertisers came out of nowhere, planted a single message, and expected to walk away with significant returns on their multimillion-dollar investment.

In an Adweek survey, 13.1 percent of viewers remembered no dot-com commercials whatsoever. The only two e-commerce advertisers that registered significant recall were E-Trade and There is value in continuity. scored highly, not merely because its sock puppet spokes-thing is clever, but because its message had been seen before. Theirs was indeed a new commercial but it capitalized on previously built impressions of an ongoing campaign. Instead of doing something brand new simply because this was the Super Bowl, took its property and simply took it to a higher level. It worked.

Appeal to a Broad Audience

#4: As a total group, Super Bowl advertisers recognized that the audience is larger than just men and, for the first time, some bought time to appeal primarily to women.

It's not a simple market out there. Both men and women watch the Super Bowl. Thus, Tropicana, Bud Light, and Oxygen Media bought in where they have not previously. Even though viewers may be gorging on six-foot submarine sandwiches, nachos, and beer, they have feelings, too. Thus, viewers saw public service announcements from the U.S. Census and the National Heart Savers Association.

What Can Camp Professionals Learn from This?

  • Choosing which camp to attend is most assuredly a purchasing decision. As such, camp professionals cannot deny the role that marketing must play in encouraging more children to attend camp. More important, camp professionals must be smart players, staying abreast of the reality of the marketplace.
  • Camp administrators must carefully prepare before putting out their camp's message. Part of this preparation is making sure not to jump for the easy solution to attract attention, instead you should craft a message that distinguishes the camp in the mind of the consumer by offering clearly understandable value.
  • You cannot count on one single impression to deliver your entire message to prospective families. While one or more member(s) of a family may look most closely to your Web site or only view your video, another might not have the time for either and choose to view your story via your brochure. Consider the value of a durable, multimedia approach to spreading your total story. Make sure that the message for each medium bears resemblance to the others. This kind of community gives you a look of consistency and reliability.
  • Just as the Super Bowl audience is first being recognized for its diversity, so must you understand the important roles of children and even grandparents in the camp decision process. Any camp marketing package that speaks only on an adult-to-adult level ignores the important role of children and the need to make them feel comfortable and excited about your camp.
  • Content is more important than form. While many of the Super Bowl advertisers had "all the right moves" in terms of technical prowess — swift pacing and of-the-moment editing and graphics — the core messages were weak and lacked memorability. The parallel here: Web sites that load quickly but do not have a message of interest, at least not to children. There are many camp Web sites out there that read like the back pages of the camp parent manual. Remember, in many cases the child is the first family member to visit your site. If you want that child to refer the site to her or his parents, you'd better make your message kid-appealing.

Taking Time to Craft the Message

It seemed like many of the Super Bowl advertisers, save for the old pros like Budweiser, may have given little more direction to their advertising agencies than "Quick, go make a commercial for the game." The parallel here is the camp director who hires a photographer, videographer, or Web designer and says, "Go capture images of the camp" or "OK, get a site up as fast as you can." The key to good results is careful strategizing. You want more than clear, colorful photos; you want meaningful photos. You want more than a Web site; you want a browsing experience that will distinguish your camp's Web site from other camp's and other Web surfing experiences.

At the ACA National Conference in Albuquerque, one seminar attendee claimed that he just couldn't get his mind wrapped around marketing and that he needed a little motivation. He was advised to adopt a new and perhaps self-centered attitude toward marketing: After you have tackled programming, staffing, maintenance, upgrades, risk management, training, and orientation, your marketing program is your opportunity to show off. It is your way to say, "Hey, look what I've done!" The by-product of this proud display, of course, is new campers.

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

Originally published in the 2000 May/June issue of Camping Magazine.