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Partners + Napier billboard campaign aims to drive traffic to The Strong

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.

This billboard for Path to Play evokes the “Lite-Brite” illuminated toy popular since the 1960s. (Image provided by Partners + Napier)

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.”

These images of die-cast cars inside a billboard built to look like a carrying case can inspire nostalgia for adults and excitement for children. (Photo provided by Partners + Napier)

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.

Don’t sink your battleship! Partners + Napier designed this billboard to resemble the iconic Battleship! game. (Photo provided by Partners + Napier)

“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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Companies changing logos in support of climate fight


Rochester People’s Climate Coalition is trying to go viral like the Ice Bucket Challenge did, but with melting instead of freezing.

RMSC changed its logo to call attention to climate change.
RMSC changed its logo to call attention to climate change.

And instead of curing a disease, the group is aiming to cure the planet of climate change by educating people and businesses about steps they can take to help.

RPCC, with the help of a lot of legwork from Partners + Napier, launched its #LogoWarming campaign on Thursday, with about 10 business and organization partners participating. Each agreed to change its logo for a time to represent the melting caused by global warming, and to challenge other entities to do the same.

The idea is to not only call attention to climate change but also to what can be done about it, namely to “Go All Electric.”  The theory is that because 91 percent of the electricity generated in New York comes from nuclear, water, wind or solar power already, switching from fossil fuel for heating or transportation to electricity cuts down on carbon production.

“Where our emissions come from is the heating of our buildings and transportation. Both of those lend themselves to electrification,” said Abigail McHugh-Grifa, executive director of RPCC. “Go All Electric is an idea we want to be planting in everyone’s mind.”

McHugh-Grifa said that while most people agree that the earth’s atmosphere is heating up, they often don’t know what to do to fight that potentially cataclysmic phenomenon. Many folks haven’t heard of or don’t understand what a heat pump is, for example, she said, referencing a heating system that pulls heat out of your house in the summer and draws it from the warmer earth in the winter. It saves both money and energy costs.

“The heating and cooling systems — that is going to be slower to come along than electric vehicles,” McHugh-Grifa said. But the group is focusing on one step at a time, starting with asking companies to change the appearance of their logos online temporarily.

With the help of Partners + Napier, the logos are being remade to look as if they’re melting in the heat of the sun.

“For companies, their logo is sacred,” McHugh-Grifa said. “I think it is a big ask for businesses to do this. But protecting our planet is absolutely worth it.”

Apparently a cadre of companies and institutions agree.

The Rochester Museum and Science Center, along with its Cumming Nature Center, has signed on to be two of the initial #LogoWarming participants.

“It’s a lovely, beautiful way to get something out there,” said RMSC President and CEO Hillary Olson.

Hillary Olson
Hillary Olson

A museum of science is an ideal organization to be involved, she said, because its job is to share science without bias.

“We can be a community convenor for everyone, all belief systems,” Olson said. “Museums are a trusted source of information. There’s so much that’s been politicized about this issue unnecessarily. It’s an issue of science and it’s an issue of what we can do … using our brains and human ingenuity.”

The #LogoWarming campaign seems to fit right in with companies that have already made environmental issues a priority. The museum, for instance, has changed its parking lot to porous material and commissioned an art piece that both collects rainwater runoff and educates people about water issues.

Similarly, David Brickman and Patricia Sunwoo, a married couple who own Hemp It Up, decided to go into the hemp products business because of their environmental concerns, said Brickman.  “Hemp can replace cotton in just about any use,” he said, but with less negative environmental impact. It can also be used to make paper, negating the need to cut down trees, which are necessary to help trap carbon dioxide.

Brickman and Sunwoo are professional violinists who also own another Park Avenue business adjacent to Hemp It up, called Bodymind Float Center. Both businesses will change their logos for the campaign.

“I hope that our melting logo will add to the din from scientists, activists and concerned citizens that screams ‘Climate change is real and the time to act is NOW!’” Brickman wrote in an email.

Other organizations that have signed on include Abundance Cooperative Market, Breathe Yoga, Brighton High School Climate Club, Computer Systems Asset Disposal, ROC Recycling Co., Stacy K Floral, Sweet and Cute, and SWBR.

Businesses interested in participating in the #LogoWarming challenge can learn more at the initiative’s website.
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