With a $70 million expansion of The Strong Museum of Play now complete and the world’s greatest collection of toys and games on display, the creative team at Partners + Napier has launched a campaign to spread the word.
“Path to Play” is a billboard campaign meant to lure kids and kids at heart from Toronto and Cleveland, with additional efforts marketing efforts targeting Pittsburgh.
Whether the billboard along the Path to Play sports a giant box of crayons – with a very Crayola-like look – or something very much resembling a Lite-Brite board, the messaging is the same.
“The Strong Museum is your family’s best day ever, that’s the reaction we’re looking for from kids,” said Dan O’Donnell, group creative director at Partners + Napier.
Talk about the greatest marketing job ever.
“It’s always fun to work with The Strong; everything they do is about play,” O’Donnell said. “I am totally a kid at heart so this is honestly my dream client.”
Partners + Napier has been The Strong’s agency of record since 2018. With an additional 90,000 square feet of space with fun and games added through the expansion project, the target audience now extends well beyond the previous markets of Buffalo, Syracuse and Albany. They’re looking at anyone within a four-hour drive.
“It’s targeting the cities outside of New York; Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Toronto are the main targets, with added emphasis on Toronto because it’s the largest and most drivable,” O’Donnell said.
Path to Play begins in downtown Toronto and continues to Rochester. There are nine different billboards along the Queen Elizabeth Way, Interstate 290 in the Buffalo area and New York State Thruway. And if someone in the car is using the Waze travel app, there’s even more information on The Strong coming their way. There also are billboards along Interstate 90 between Cleveland and Buffalo.
“If a car is near any of the boards or at any of the exits or rest stops, they’ll get pinged,” O’Donnell said. “The goal is to start the conversation in the car and then get them to start exploring and possibly coming.”
The billboard messaging draws the memories of childhood that parents may have and the familiarity kids have of the games on display.
“One of the things that sets the museum apart from a normal children’s museum is the historical toy aspect,” O’Donnell said. “They have the Toy Hall of Fame, they have the World Video Game Hall of Fame. They have those assets within their collection that nobody else has.
“So, we thought let’s take advantage of that because a) you’re going to get any kids who are in the car and b) nostalgically you get the parents as well. For each of the boards, we chose different toys or games that are still around today but also would be something the kids would look at. What would resonate with both?”
Just because a game or toy checked both of those boxes didn’t mean it would work for a billboard, however. Billboards are very wide but not very high. Not every game would fit that extreme horizontal template.
That was a challenge for the Partners + Napier creative team led by art director Danielle Smith and copywriter Isabel Drukker.
“We asked, what makes a fun billboard and what’s going to work?” O’Donnell said. “We probably had twice as many executions as we were coming up with this. It was trying to figure out what would work best in that environment. Outdoor is a tricky thing, being so horizontal and wide and needing to be read from so far away. What’s going to capture people’s attention?”
They’re pretty sure they came up with the perfect mix, and in a manner that hits the target.
“The creativity is so eye-catching,” said Sara Poe, vice president of marketing and communications for The Strong. “The museum is really difficult to describe succinctly because there are so many things to experience. You can’t try to describe everything there is to do here.
“So how do we make a lasting impression on someone’s mind? You try to bring delight and pleasure and to do that, you start with recognizable elements.”
Along with the billboards (12 in all), The Strong’s marketing campaign includes programmatic TV, social media, online video, radio advertising and even sponsorships with minor league sports teams that have kids’ clubs.”
It’s a well-rounded campaign but the billboards are the fresh, new, shiny part of it, and also creating that path,” O’Donnell said.
The museum also is putting together packages and co-promotions with the adjacent Hampton Inn & Suites to lure out-of-town visitors, Poe said.
The awareness campaign also includes an in-air element, with two planes flying banners at certain outdoor events in cities like Pittsburgh and Erie, Pa.
“The first plane has Pac-Man being followed by the ghosts and it’s then followed by a second plane flying the museum logo,” O’Donnell said. “Every time they fly that, they see huge spikes in their website traffic.”
Which in turn may lead to a spike in museum visitors.
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