Fairs Seek to Reach Younger Demographic

August 19, 2002 | By Mary Wade Burnside

When Mike Treacy, CEO of the Kern County Fair, Bakersfield, Calif., broke down the numbers from the 2000 census and compared them to 1990, the growth in the area’s young people showed him he needed to make some changes at his fair.

“We decided to go back and have brainstorming sessions with 15 of our key staff people,” Treacy said. “What we did was to first make a list of all our major events and attractions to go on at the fair. After we had them all on the board-about l40 attractions-we went back and made categorations as to generational appeal.” Some events overlapped and seemed to hold appeal to more than one generation, such as a cheerleading competition, Treacy noted.

Treacy became interested in the idea of generational marketing, as well as social marketing, after he heard author William Strauss speak during the Western Fairs Assn.’s annual convention in January Strauss, co-author of “Generations,” studies how the age groups of Americans affect their life view and therefore their consumer habits. The social marketing service, as Treacy put it, tries to “link up fairs with everything from recycling to anti-tobacco campaigns to anything you can imagine with programs that are beneficial to society.”

Companies that want to implement social campaigns provide extra income to fairs, as Treacy found out.

“Quite frankly through the social marketing context, we’ve already secured about enough sponsorships that are going to pay for [LifeCourse’s] fee,” Treacy said.

Rick Delano, marketing director for LifeCourse Associates, Strauss’s Great Falls, Va.-based company guided the Kern Ccunty Fair’s research. “The census data suggested to us that we had overestimated the number of ‘boomers,’ which suggested we put more emphasis on Generation X,” Delano said. “If they had entertainment aimed at the Silent Generation, those are people over the age of 57, and there are so few in that age population that they might want to think about what kind of investment to make in those attractions.”

The 2000 census data showed that the Millennial Generation—those born since 1982—actually makes up the largest number of Kern County residents, with 232,000 out of 661,000 residents, Treacy said. Generation X followed with 191,000, and Baby Boomers came in third at 139,000. “From there, it drops off,” Treacy said.

Not only does the research tell Treacy what attractions he might want to keep or discontinue, but it also gives information on how to market the fair to the county’s various households.

However, since many of those Millennials live with their Gen X parents, the fair can get the kids through the parents, and also get the parents through advertising to the kids in schools.

“We’re now in the process of designing fliers for direct mail and distribution points throughout the county to hit those different markets,” Treacy said. “In the case of the Millennials, we’re going through the schools. The fliers will feature the top five or six attractions that we agreed would be the most appealing to them—the carnival, concerts, and an air band competition that the kids are putting on.”

Even though the results of the 2000 census surprised Treacy, his fair already had done a lot to acquire and keep a youthful patronage.

The Kern County Fair already had a respectable overall market penetration of 440,000 out of the county’s 661,000 before beginning research.

Plus, a focus group of junior and senior high school students showed that the fair gets between 85% to 95% of that market, and that they attend the fair two or three times.

“We’re doing really well with those ages,” Treacy said. “‘What we’re not getting are the Generation X parents and the younger children, children under 7.

“Their lives are so busy It’s problematic to get the stroller and the diaper bag and all the accouterments. Ifs tough.”

In order to attract more Generation Xers, Treacy plans to hold two focus groups of approximately 10 families each, from two neighborhoods that research shows features many in that age group that do not come to the fair.

“Our goal is to get their impressions of the fair, if there are any, and then learn a bit about them,” Treacy said. “We’ll distribute tickets to those families to go the fair, and three or four weeks after that, we’ll hold additional meetings and listen to their pros and cons and recommendations for improvements.”

Strauss will present his findings when he speaks again at the Western Fairs Assn. meeting Jan. 6-9 at the Town and Country Resort, San Diego. LifeCourse has a separate contract with Western Fairs for research that will benefit all member fairs. Also, other fairs could hire the company to do specific research.

However, Delano noted that the company also will be developing a collection of items fair officials can use to do the research on their own.

“When we are finished, one of the deliverables is a tool kit that fairs will be able to use in doing this work themselves,” Delano said. “It’s not brain surgery”

Steve Chambers, executive director of the Western Fairs Assn., noted that the kits would be available to all member fairs at the 2003 convention.

“And we will work with probably the IAFE [International Assn. of Fairs and Expositions] to make it available to all fairs in North America,” Chambers said. “It’s something we want to share.”

At the Kern County Fair, Treacy found the process very helpful.

“I think it’s going to be extremely valuable to the fair,” he said. “It’s going to give us information and data we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise if we had kept on going without looking at the demographics. We’d be presuming a lot of things.”