Ocean City Ramps Up ‘Cicada-Free Zone’ Marketing Campaign

Ocean City Ramps Up ‘Cicada-Free Zone’ Marketing Campaign
Ocean City Ramps Up ‘Cicada-Free Zone’ Marketing Campaign

OCEAN CITY — With the cicadas of Brood X starting to emerge in force across much of the eastern half of the U.S. this week, Ocean City is ramping up it’s Cicada-Free Zone marketing campaign.

The last time periodical cicadas of Brood X emerged 17 years ago, 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 from all over the eastern half of the country to escape the annoying pests and, by most accounts, it was successful.

The Brood X cicadas started emerging from their underground homes in huge numbers this week, and Ocean City has dusted off its Cicada-Free Zone campaign in kind. 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. Seventeen years ago, when Ocean City first rolled out its creative Cicada-Free Zone campaign, town officials consulted with two entomologists to confirm the Brood X cicadas would not be making their presence felt in the resort area.

Ocean City Communications and Marketing Director Jessica Waters said this week with Brood X starting to emerge, the town has ramped up its campaign in its major markets up and down the east coast and beyond through social media and public relations outreach. Just last week, Mayor Rick Meehan appeared via Zoom on the television show “Good Morning Columbus” in Ohio to pitch the idea to residents in that area.

“Good morning Columbus, Ohio,” he said. “Ocean City is always the right place to be, but particularly right now because if they haven’t yet, that 17-year cycle is about to happen and cicadas are going to be surrounding all of the areas around the Midwest and areas surrounding the Atlantic beaches, but not here in Ocean City. The sand and soils in Ocean City are not conducive to cicadas, so this is actually a cicada-free zone.”

Waters said the town marketing department, along with MGH, have been closely watching for the emergence of Brood X to carefully time when to launch the campaign. Evidently, that time is now.

“We have been monitoring the cicada ‘buzz’ and doing outreach very strategically,” she said. “We are pitching the Cicada-Free Zone to areas in our markets that are discussing the arrival of the bugs.”

Waters said Meehan’s remote press junket in Ohio is one of many markets from which Ocean City visitors travel to the resort that will be getting the Cicada-Free Zone message in the coming weeks.

“We have our eyes set on some national news outlets covering cicada stories, but are also continuing our local outreach efforts in the key advertising markets where there will be cicadas, including Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia, Columbus, New York and New Jersey,” she said.

Waters said the campaign truly ramped up this week.

“Right now, actually, is when our big push will begin,” she said. “With the emergence of the cicadas likely occurring this week due to the warmer temperatures, we think now is the ideal time to capitalize on the interest in Brood X by making them aware of Ocean City being a cicada-free zone to hopefully incorporate in their coverage, and offering up the potential interviews and sound bites.”

When it was learned Ocean City was going to dust off its Cicada-Free Zone campaign this summer with the arrival of Brood X, The Baltimore Sun took a swipe at the town for its tongue-in-cheek cicada-free marketing plan in a larger editorial about the emerging insects, which prompted Meehan to fire off a letter to the Baltimore publication. In the letter, Meehan made his best pitch for visitors to escape the “frightening invaders” as the publication referred to them in a headline.

“You accused us of encouraging irrational behavior with our campaign, but we think going on vacation where the cicadas are not is a very rational response to their impending arrival. Not to mention, while news outlets like yours continue to cover the arrival of these buzzing bugs, we thought “why not have a little fun?” Is fun no longer allowed at The Sun? In Ocean City, fun is kind of what we do best so why not welcome people to our cicada-free zone,” Meehan wrote in the letter. “So, when your ears have heard enough of what Brood X has to offer, come on down to Ocean City. Trade the constant hum of insects for the relaxing sounds of waves rolling up on our 10 miles of beautiful and cicada-free beach, as well as our cicada-free outdoor restaurants, golf courses and other attractions. We are pretty sure even the cicadas would vacation here if they could.”

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. The Brood X emergence is expected to last through June and into early July.

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.