Ocean City Eyes Cicade-Free Zone Marketing Campaign

Ocean City Eyes Cicade-Free Zone Marketing Campaign
Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY — Hoping to capitalize on a 17-year phenomenon, Ocean City plans to resurrect its “Cicada Free Zone” campaign first rolled out in 2004.

The last time periodical cicadas of Brood X emerged across much of the eastern half of the U.S., The Town of Ocean City, in cooperation with its tourism department and its advertising and marketing firm MGH, rolled out a humorous, innovative promotion marketing the resort area as a Cicada Free Zone. The campaign beckoned visitors from all over the eastern half of the country to escape the annoying pests and by most accounts, it was successful.

As it turns out, cicadas do not arrive in Ocean City and the Lower Shore coastal areas because the soil is not conducive to their growth cycle. To be absolutely sure before launching the campaign, Ocean City tourism and MGH officials at the time checked with two entomologists to confirm the Brood X cicadas would not be making their presence felt in the resort area.

Armed with scientific evidence, Ocean City and MGH decided to create the light-hearted campaign to lure visitors to the resort to escape the millions of swarming cicadas. While it was hard to quantify just how many visitors that summer were lured by the campaign, it was deemed a rousing success.

Perhaps equally important to the visitors the campaign attracted was the amount of free publicity the town received as the news of the creative initiative was featured in several media outlets around the region and throughout the country. Then-Ocean City Director of Marketing Martha Clements at the time called it a truly unique initiative,” and “the most humorous, clever campaign Ocean City has ever done.”

During a Tourism Commission meeting on Monday, commission member and hotelier Michael James half-jokingly referred to the 2004 campaign and suggested bringing it back.

“This time 17 years ago, we had a cicada promotion,” he said. “It was really effective.”

Mayor Rick Meehan said with Brood X’s emergency imminent, the town is preparing to roll out the Cicada Free Zone campaign again.

“We have everything ready,” he said. “We’re waiting for the right moment. It was a fun and popular promotion.”

Ocean City typically markets its clean, sandy beaches, the 10-mile Boardwalk and the other attractions and amenities the town offers and that will obviously continue this summer. However, marketing the resort to millions of people in the throes of an inland cicada invasion will be added to the strategy.

The trick will be when to time the cicada campaign roll-out. Pin-pointing when Brood X, called by some experts the largest brood of cicadas in the world, will emerge from their holes after 17 years in the ground is uncertain, but the cicadas have evidently already started burrowing.

The cicadas are harmless, but they create a summer-long nuisance in the areas where they are most prevalent, which, for Brood X, includes much of the eastern half of the U.S. Millions of people within driving distance of Ocean City will be subjected to the steady roar of countless cicadas emerging from Brood X and filling the skies and tree tops, back porches, yards and vehicles.

It’s uncertain if the 2021 campaign will exactly mirror the 2004 initiative, but it appears the concept will be the same. During the 2004 campaign, the town sent out press releases to local, state and national media platforms, which got a lot of attention. Then-Mayor Jim Mathias actually issued a somewhat tongue-in-cheek proclamation declaring Ocean City as a Cicada Free Zone.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.