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DM Draws College Students to Panama City

The Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau concluded an ambitious campaign to continue the Florida location's dominance over competitors as the leader in spring break destinations.

Targeting college students ages 18-24, the effort by Cranbury, NJ, agency Alloy Marketing and Promotions used a 24-page custom publication supported by a plethora of other media to maintain Panama City Beach's popularity this year.

“The strategy was to begin the campaign by placing the publication in students' hands just prior to Thanksgiving break and then again when they returned from their winter break in early to mid-January,” said Eric Hoover, vice president of Alloy Marketing.

The Spring Break Guide was distributed by Alloy's 360 Youth marketing division to 2.5 million college students via insertions in its proprietary college newspaper network and through campus bookstore distribution.

The book's call to action was simple. Pre-break, it was “Enjoy the white sandy beaches of the #1 spring break destination.” In-market during March, the book says “Come to SB04 'The Event' for free music, celebrity appearances, games, prizes, etc.”

In addition, on-campus location media and events at more than 400 colleges and universities reinforced the message that Panama City Beach was the spring break destination to visit. The agency also used the site at www.springbreakpanamacity.com and 1-800-PCBEACH to promote.

Once at spring break, students receive daily advertiser messages and drive-to-event correspondence through Alloy's in-market hotel partners. This is done via in-room sampling and literature distribution, street teams, pool bottoms and elevator advertising.

“No other spring break destination aggressively markets to students like Panama City Beach does,” Hoover claims. “Some locations run random newspaper advertisements during the semester.”

Panama City Beach's spring break attendance of nearly 400,000 students in March exceeds the other top competing destinations combined. It is nearly four times larger than its closest competitor, South Padre Island, TX, which attracts an estimated 100,000 students. Cancun in Mexico gets 85,000 students and Daytona Beach, FL, about 50,000.

Not surprisingly, the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau is keen to leverage its popular getaway status with students as well as marketers.

For example, it offers sponsors access to campaigns and on-site events across 65,000 square feet of beachfront property centered around The Spinnaker Beach Club in Panama City. Advertisers can place ads in hotels and also personalize daytime beach and nightclub experiences.

This year's sponsorships are interesting. Verizon Wireless is hosting the Verizon Wireless Latitude Pavilion, a spot on the beach where college students can meet their friends, relax, imbibe refreshments and play interactive games.

Toymaker Hasbro is sponsoring the Super Soaker Survival & Bump Ball Challenge, a water fight tournament. Paramount Pictures has two of its own — “School of Rock”: Battle of the Bands, a karaoke contest on the beach, and Movie Madness, a series of screenings of its latest flicks.

Finally, Panasonic is running Spring Break's Most Wanted, a pavilion on the beach with product demonstrations and new product displays. Panasonic brand ambassadors will hang out at the largest clubs in Panama City Beach at night taking photographs of students having fun. The pictures are posted the next day at the pavilion for students to see who has been chosen as the Most Wanted.

“Our advertisers benefit from high-energy beach events that attract thousands of students daily to interact with their brands, and our nightclub and hotel outreach provides additional advertising and sampling exposure,” Hoover said.

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