OCEAN CITY — If you think people saw a lot of Rodney the Lifeguard last summer, just wait until this summer.
MGH Advertising outlined the upcoming season’s advertising campaign to the Tourism Commission last week and their plans to make the town’s official mascot bigger and better in hopes of drawing more people than ever to Ocean City.
“We are very excited about this year’s campaign, and our plan is to take Rodney to a whole new level,” said MGH President Andy Malis. “We are going to have Rodney reach out to more people than we ever have before and expand on the very successful campaign that we had last year when we introduced him.”
Rodney, played by New York-based actor Blake Adams, may not have been an instant hit, according to some locals and business owners when the “Rodney to the Rescue” commercials first hit the airwaves last spring, but huge increases in traffic to the town’s new website (www.ococean.com) and widespread recognition of the character everywhere from Baltimore to New York City proved the campaign to be an overwhelming success and even won over some of the campaign’s harshest critics. It also can’t be denied that the town’s overall draw, despite being down slightly from 2008, but much better than the double digit percentage declines seen in almost every other East Coast resort, showed the campaign’s worth.
Malis told the Tourism Commission that the new television commercials for this summer will not be shot until after the fiscal year ends (June 30), in order for the advertising budget to replenish itself to the $2.88 million that the town will be spending on advertising in 2010 (down 8 percent from last year).
“Up until we shoot the new commercials, we will be running last year’s commercials with a new tagline at the end which will point out the value-deals and continue to push people towards the website,” said Malis. “Once we shoot the new commercials, we expect there to be absolutely no production costs for 2011 as we will use the commercials from last year and this year again.”
MGH’s laid out story-boards for the new commercials, which will see Rodney driving an Ocean City Boardwalk tram into a major city (most likely Baltimore) and going into office buildings and “saving” an entire tram load of people and chauffeuring them to the beach.
In another commercial, targeted at suburban markets, Rodney will be driving the tram into a large retail parking lot, going into a store for a similar type rescue of sorts.
“We kind of want to make the joke bigger,” said Malis. “The commercials got a lot of laughs and we think these will do that on an even bigger scale, but while they are laughing, we are going to really play up all the value in the resort.”
Production costs for the TV commercials alone cost $350,000 for the first Rodney commercials, although production costs should decrease this year, as the amount of B-Roll footage (ie, shots of Ocean City landmarks and amenities) will be used again in the new commercials.
The town also announced last month that it would be offering up a “June on Sale” promotion in order to play up the value of visiting the resort, and perhaps adding a boost for business in the historically slow month of June.
“The theme will continue to be value,” said Malis. “There are deals to be had, and opportunities to come to the resort regardless of budget or length of stay. We want Rodney to really tell people that they can take a vacation and that they should in Ocean City.”
In addition, Malis told the Tourism Commission that they will more than double the amount of Rodney billboards that will be strategically placed along major traffic arteries in five major markets (including I-83, I-95, I-76, I-295 and I-395), while increasing the “impressions” in New York and New Jersey markets, which posted the highest levels of increase in traffic to the town’s website last season (138 percent and 99 percent, respectively).
One other element of this year’s campaign that will be sure to put Ocean City ahead of the curve when compared to other resorts is the utilization of social networking sites and a brand new Ocean City “app” for IPhone users, which will be a free download available on Itunes.
“People are using these smart phones to plan every aspect of their trips and also what they do when they get here,” said Malis. “So, with this app, they can find a location and quickly find a number of places that are nearby or similar to what they are looking for.”
The intense cross-marketing strategy might be a bit advanced for the resort on the surface when compared to how it’s marketed itself in years past, but the town has continued to try to stay at the forefront of the potential customer base and have tweaked their target demographic to 25-49 with women as the “decision makers” in the household and the general median income of $50,000.
“Last September, we had about 20,000 fans on the official Ocean City Facebook page, and now we have almost 36,000,” said Malis. “We are going to continue to use that medium to cross market the town’s specials and events with our ‘Rodney saves’ icons.”
Finally, Malis said that the plan is to take Rodney and Mayor Rick Meehan back out on the road this year, and they will make stops in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC, similar to last seasons’ widely publicized “Ocean City Experience”.
“We have been told by Blake [Adams] that he has been getting recognized as Rodney a number of times in Central Park when he’s jogging,” said Malis. “So we are considering setting up the lifeguard stand and stage one of these events in the middle of Times Square or maybe in Central Park. We think he’s ready.”