Marketing Matters: Theme Esteem

by Steve Cony

Nearly every camp has a logo, yet many do not complete their identity by adding a complementary theme line. While some call these slogans or tag lines, the words “theme line” seem to impart a more specialized and more important role — and a theme line is indeed a vital part of your camp’s image.

Among the many reasons for having a theme line, one seems most compelling: Many of the people who need to form a connection with your camp’s identity may not be visually oriented. These folks can look at the most exquisitely developed graphics and yet fail to respond positively. A verbally-oriented person needs words in order to relate to a product or service. Your theme line is a succinct collection of these needed words.

In addition, a theme line gives people a short-form, easily memorized explanation of what makes your camp different and thus desirable. In a market where we all admit that word of mouth is a critical factor, a theme line is more likely to find its way into parent-to-parent conversations than a long mission statement.

A meaningful theme line begins with your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) — the single most important factor that distinguishes what you do for children and how you do it. Translation of the USP into a few well-chosen words is the next step.

It is hard to achieve everything with a few brief words, but you should try to develop a theme line that embodies as many as possible of the following attributes:

  • brief
  • memorable
  • original
  • wearable
  • includes the key benefit of the camp
  • reflects the camp’s personality

The list includes “wearable.” Remember that your logo — and, hopefully, theme line — are front and center on shirts and caps, and often on pants and sweatshirts and more. When worn often, these clothing items become like walking billboards for your camp. For this to happen, though, your campers have to want to wear the logo and the theme line. A camp that prints “Walking through beds of pine needles for the sake of becoming a better human being” is unlikely to get the same exposure-through-wearability as does the camp that prints “The fun’s in the forest.”

There are many ways to structure a theme line that creates impact:

  • Promise an end benefit. To suggest a valuable and lasting benefit, a resident camp states, “You’ll talk about it all year long.” A day camp that has the continuity of senior and junior divisions and then a travel program promises, “One fun year after another fun year after another.”
  • Use repetition for memorability. One camp proclaims, “Great Stuff. Great Staff. Great Summers.” Another states, “More to Do. More to Be.”
  • Relate the theme line directly to the camp name. New Jersey’s Ivy League Day Camp uses the line “Big League Fun.” For their travel program, targeted to older children, the line becomes “Bigger League Fun.”
  • Use a two-phase delivery, with a twist. A Christian camp adopted the theme line, “The Spirit of Adventure. The Adventure of Spirit.”
  • Relate the continuity of your various offerings. One owner uses, “Discover the Spirit” for the day camp; “Discover the Adventure” for the resident camp; and “Discover the Planet” for the travel camp.
  • Use the theme line as a kind of invitation. A camp that features resplendent facilities communicates two different meanings with “We’ve made a place for you.” A camp for both mainstream campers and campers with special needs communicates achievement by inviting the reader to “Look what I did!”

Here are a few pitfalls that you should try to avoid:

  • Boasting through the use of superlatives If a camp were to proclaim itself, “The best summer experience a child can have,” the reader is entitled to respond by demanding, “Prove it!” While the goal of good promotion does allow the advertiser to boast about the product or service — that boasting must be fortified with reasons in order for the reader to believe the claim.
  • Blandness or sameness Too many camps use their theme lines to make statements that are much too similar to others. This is like the tendency for many camps to describe their staff as “mature, caring, and professional” — in those exact and overworked words. If the goal of a theme line is to distinguish the product or service, then blending quietly into the competitive marketplace is not the correct strategy.
  • Stateliness Camp is fun and therefore cool and those attributes should be reflected in the spirit of the theme line. Remember Volkswagen of America, Inc.’s “Think small” and Nike’s “Just do it” and 7 UP®’s “The UNCOLA” and The Economist’s “For top laps.” Looking specifically at that last one, if a journal about finance can have some fun within its theme line, so can summer camps.

There are some situations in which a theme line is unnecessary — and two come to mind. The cleaning product Janitor in a Drum® needed no further explanation than its product name combined with innovative green industrial drum-shaped packaging. The Sears Die Hard® battery clearly explains its benefit without going further. A camp name, however, usually does not perform as its own Unique Selling Proposition — especially when that name is based on a Native American word.

If you still have any doubt about the lasting value of a theme line, just take this quick quiz. What do you think of when you see the following words?

  • Avis®
  • Maxwell House Coffee
  • Morton Salt™
  • Allstate®
  • State Farm Insurance®

You probably recall all of these brands’ theme lines, and may even be singing the State Farm Insurance® jingle to yourself as you continue to read this.

A reasonable response might be that comparisons such as these are unfair here, as camps have nowhere near the budgets to expose their logos, theme lines, and messages in the marketplace as do these richly supported consumer products and services. Perhaps that is all the more reason for camps to establish clear identities. If we have limited opportunity to own a share of our consumers’ minds, we must work hard to grab and hold onto that share.


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 or e-mail

Originally published in the 2003 September/October issue of Camping Magazine.