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City to expand advertising in post-hurricane Jersey, Pittsburgh

(March 22, 2013) With many beaches to the north still unrepaired from Hurricane Sandy, and Ocean City still experiencing a dearth of long-stay visitors, the resort will be intensifying its TV ad campaign in the Jersey area this year, as well as expanding its coverage to include the lucrative Pittsburgh market.

In a proposal first given to the city’s Tourism Commission last week, and approved this week by City Council, MGH President Andy Malis suggested that the city re-use most of its marketing materials from prior years, and sink what would be production costs into buying additional weeks of TV air time.

MGH is the city’s contracted marketing firm, handling the design and production of the town’s advertising, and the securing of air and print space to distribute it.

“The truth is that it’s rough [in New Jersey],” Malis said. “They’re not going to be competing as they normally do.”

Despite assertions from a number of New Jersey elected officials that Garden State resorts will be fully functional by the summer – and a proposal currently in the New Jersey legislature to pump an extra $20 million into the state’s tourism marketing allocation – Malis said the evidence indicates that “that really isn’t the case.”

Even if Jersey beaches recover most of their housing capacity, many tourists have already turned their attention away from their traditional Jersey vacation spots, Malis said. A Rutgers University poll indicated that only 64 percent of Jersey’s repeat visitors plan to spend as much time there as they did last year, a number that Malis speculated would be much closer to 100 percent for Ocean City.

Of those who were planning to spend less time, 63 percent cited Hurricane Sandy as the reason. Further, 30 percent of those who spend more than four weeks at Jersey beaches are planning to cut back.

“A very large percentage of those people paid no attention before [to Ocean City’s advertising],” Malis said. “They had no intention of coming here. This has given us an unprecedented opportunity to reach those people who weren’t receptive before.”

While Malis stressed that he would not be willing, ethically, to devise an ad campaign that specifically referenced the destruction on the New York and New Jersey coastlines, there was conversely no reason for Ocean City not to heighten its existing campaign to meet the anticipated higher demand of the Jersey market.

“It would be irresponsible for us, at the same time, not to look at it in those terms,” Malis said. “It is affecting the marketplace already and it’s my responsibility to bring that to your attention.

“I would not want to take advantage by doing something particularly different, but we can do more of what we’re doing already.”

Malis proposed expanding the city’s TV campaign in the Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York network to 16 weeks, versus last year’s 12-week campaign, meaning the city would begin advertising four weeks earlier. TV purchases in the core regions of Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and central Pennsylvania would remain at 13 weeks.

“The opportunity here is to get in earlier and get their attention,” Malis said.

Additionally, a 12-week campaign would be started in Pittsburgh, a market that is considerably cheaper than the metro areas of Maryland and New Jersey. But despite reaching fewer people, Pittsburgh advertising has the advantage of reaching those who will likely book earlier and stay longer, since they have a further distance to travel.

“Our weekly rentals have dropped off in recent years,” said Councilman Brent Ashley. “The further they come, the longer they stay.”

Ashley also suggested that part of the Jersey campaign actually encourages vacationers to support their own beaches.

“I think that type of campaign would create so much good-will, it would be priceless,” he said.

However, the city is likely to not change any of its advertising content and will instead avoid production costs so it can concentrate on wider dissemination. Malis said he plans to select three of the most well-received commercials featuring Rodney the Lifeguard, a character created by MGH, who “rescues” visitors from their boring jobs or mundane lives and delivers them to Ocean City.

The campaign’s tagline will be the “Lucky Summer of ’13,” which will essentially be a re-branding of last year’s “Summer of Thanks” theme. MGH will again solicit coupons and deals from hotels and restaurants to promote the resort’s value.

Deals will be promoted through the town’s tourism website, ococean.com, as well as through its Facebook page. A Facebook sweepstakes will give away a prize vacation package every week for 12 weeks, as well as one grand prize package of a week’s stay in the resort.

Malis also said MGH will be ramping up the resort’s presence on the photo-sharing site Instragram, and plans to establish photo hotspots around the resort where vacationers can tag their photo submissions for a chance to win T-shirts.

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