Tourism Officials Embrace ‘OC Experience’ Concept

OCEAN CITY – A tractor trailer sporting Ocean City’s brand may become a new site in the regional marketplace as tourism experts and officials brainstorm ideas to expand the town’s unique marketing capabilities in order to put Ocean City ahead of the rest.

Spark Productions, which proposed “OC Experience” to the Mayor and City Council, has a 20-year history of event production and event management. It produces the “OC Car and Truck Show” and “Beachfest”, as well as serves as the event managers for “Cruisin OC”.

Owners Brad Hoffman, Brian Stoehr, and David Bafford described the “OC Experience” as experimental marketing, a three-dimensional campaign that offers the touch, feel, smell and sound of the product. It embodies engagement and gives an emotional connection where customers become interested in the product, services and brands by being placed in their hands.

Hoffman explained that the experience will be a “traveling tractor trailer type of set up.”

According to Spark Productions, many major companies utilize experimental marketing, for example, Sony, Nokia, GF Goodrich, Monster, Verizon, Ford Motor Company, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, and Hershey to name a few.

The “OC Experience” will be a mobile interactive display showcasing iconic images, smells and sounds of the town. It will take the beach to different cities showcasing what Ocean City can offer by the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (OCHMRA) and the Chamber of Commerce being on site sharing with visitors specials on hotels, restaurants and special events. It could be used at festivals, events, tradeshows, fairs and media events, according to Spark.

Visitors will be able to touch the sand and walk the Boardwalk as they enter the “OC Experience”. They will smell Caramel Corn, hear beach music, and be able to play Boardwalk games.

Everyone that enters the experience will be asked for information such as emails, address and telephone numbers. Data capturing would generate leads for future marketing by the town and related media partners.

“One of the things that we have heard out there is that Ocean City is too expensive,” Hoffman said. “I think this kind of format can help dispel those rumors.”

Spark Productions shared many benefits in creating the “OC Experience”. It would differentiate Ocean City from other competing resorts, such as Atlantic City and Virginia Beach. The experience would set the town in the forefront, setting a new standard in resort destination marketing.

“We have to stay ahead of the curve and we have to think outside of the box,” Hoffman said. “To always evolve and add new strategic arms to your marketing is how you continue to stay ahead of the competition.”

It would also increase business, traffic to the town’s website and viral media exposure and impressions, such as Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.

Spark Productions would work in concert with the Tourism Advisory Board and the town’s advertising firm, MGH, to maximize the concept’s impact.

In its first year, the OC Experience will cost about $260,000. Hoffman said that $60,000 to $70,000 of that cost would be to build out the concept and the tractor trailer. In the following years, the costs are estimated to be $200,000 a year to operate it on the road.

“I think it is exciting,” Councilman Joe Hall said. “I think it would diversify our advertising and marketing plan.”

Hoffman explained Spark Productions would own the concept, and the town would not have any liability in direct ownership of the concept.

Hoffman said that 50 percent of the costs are associated with the travel shows and production.

“The reason it is so important to do these travel shows is because that’s when you have your critical mass of people,” Hoffman said.

Mayor Rick Meehan asserted that the costs to run the OC Experience equates to the costs to two weeks of radio and a week of television marketing on major markets that has proven successful for the town and it would be important for that to continue into the future.

Meehan was hesitant and said, “to take a quarter of a million dollars out of the budget [tourism]…I am not sure that should be the funding source.”

Councilwoman Mary Knight commented on the proposed event schedule that the “OC Experience” would visit, which is mostly in Pennsylvania and Maryland. She said that the concept behind experimental marketing is to take the concept to an audience that hasn’t experienced the product before.

“Those potential people have already been marketed to and already know about Ocean City,” Knight said.

Knight also asserted that the concept should be sub-contracted.

“It would be a sole-source,” she said. “We haven’t looked at anybody else, and we never sole-source anything.”

Council Secretary Lloyd Martin said that he would like the city to be in control, and Spark Productions should be working with MGH who have an expertise on Ocean City’s advertising.

“It is 67 percent of our tourism budget and it may put a dent in their [MGH] plans for this year,” Martin said. “I haven’t seen a recommendation from them.”

Council President Jim Hall said that he supported the concept but it needs to be determined what items would have to be sacrificed in the tourism budget to create the “OC Experience.”

OCHMRA Director Susan Jones said the Tourism Advisory Board “absolutely loves the concept”, but as far as where the figures fit in the tourism budget has yet to be determined.

“It is a win-win situation for Ocean City,” Jones said. “It would definitely put us to the next level.”

Ocean City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melanie Pursel said that it is difficult to see what would be sacrificed in the budget for the concept.

“We do love the idea but we do think what we have been doing is working extremely well,” Pursel said. “I think looking at potential increase in room tax revenue, being able to set aside money that isn’t already dedicated.”

Councilman Joe Hall made a motion to instruct Spark Productions, MGH, the Tourism Advisory Board and Ocean City Tourism Director Deb Turk to review the concept and incorporate it into the tourism budget to get the “OC Experience” created within the year.

Pursel suggested for the team to return with different scenarios on how the tourism budget could be re-allocated, in attempts to cut down on the time line until the “OC Experience” is created.

“As long as one scenario is to get it up and running this year,” Joe Hall said. “There is merit to being first … by stalling this and not getting it out into the market place this season you open the door for competition.”

The council voted 6-1, with Knight in opposition.

“Now it is time for us to roll up our sleeves and figure where we will be able to cut and a couple scenarios where we could get it out there now,” Hoffman said.