When heading out to an amusement park such as New Jersey’s own Six Flags Great Adventure, advertising is perhaps the last thing to cross one’s mind. Super coasters, white-knuckle rides, high-pitched screaming, yes…but ad campaigns, not so much. Six Flags knows this as well, but the brand is also keenly aware of the miles of advertising real estate available throughout the park. And since today’s consumer no longer wishes to have brands disrupt from their experience, especially an experience for which they’ve paid a handsome sum, what’s a brand like Six Flags to do?
The masters of the thrill ride have proven they are also the masters of enhancing (rather than disrupting) the experience by using a technique that websites have been selling as the latest, greatest thing: native advertising. Six Flags reminds us that, long before there was an Internet, brands could weave their messaging into customers’ lifestyles in a way that became more meaningful than simply sticking a brand-centric ad in front of potential buyers. Native advertising is not something invented by modern-day marketing gurus; rather, this effective technique, where brands become part of the story, is a tactic that the digital world has adapted from the real world.
Just take a walk through Six Flags to see native advertising in action. While having irrelevant ad campaigns scattered throughout the park would potentially annoy visitors (or, worse for advertisers, simply be “unseen” as people search for their next favorite ride), campaigns for brands like Juicy Fruit gum capture attention by becoming part of the experience. Dotting the grounds are signs for the popular Wrigley’s chewable that include headlines like “A stomach plunging drop is sweet,” “Barrel rolls are sweet,” and “Diving loops are sweet,” — always followed with the closing line, “Juicy Fruit is sweeter.” Visitors instantly get that the brand gets them, or at least what they are there for. And they respond, from smiling and pointing out the signs to their friends, to taking photos of and with the ads (and almost certainly posting on social media). Now that’s interactive.
The “You’re not yourself when your hungry” campaign for Snickers candy bars also makes some native appearances throughout Six Flags Great Adventure. Capitalizing on Snickers’ self-proclaimed ability to stop people from being “hangry,” the brand’s ads serve as a reminder to grab a snack and keep the fun on track. “If your child is giving you a piggyback ride, you might be hungry,” says one park sign that features prominent Snickers branding. The sweet treat takes their native advertising approach even further, with signage on ride lines that reads, “If you think this is a conga line, you might be hungry.” Entertaining a captive audience, one that is likely very hungry and disregarding any thoughts of dieting at that moment, Snickers really satisfies…or at least takes one’s mind off of the long wait.
Why stop with the line leading up to the ride? Some brands don’t. Now, not every menacing machine is plastered with branding of some sort. That would turn consumers’ stomachs, in a way they don’t want to feel, even at Six Flags. However, when done properly (and sparingly), this really is the ultimate native advertising: the brand is literally in the experience with the consumer. The “Twister” top-spinner ride is one of the best examples, bringing to life the Twix candy bar campaign, “Left Twix, Right Twix.” The entire left side of the ride is covered with signage that visually screams “Left Twix is the more thrilling side,” while the right side declares “Right Twix is the more exciting side.” Obviously, riders can’t lose no matter which side they choose — that’s the whole point of the campaign. And friends and family too timid to ride can see which side the rider has chosen.
Will these campaigns increase sales in a trackable manner for the brands? That’s not the point of native advertising. The point is to become part of the medium in a way that connects more emotionally with the consumer to help raise brand awareness and affinity. It’s brand affinity that can make a real difference. No matter how clever the Snickers integration is, someone with severe dental issues probably won’t be buying the gooey, tooth-pulling treat for themselves. That’s ok. They’ll remember the campaign in a positive way. Perhaps when Halloween comes around, that non-Snickers-eating individual will choose to buy Fun Size Snickers over the brand’s competitors to give out to trick-or-treaters. The advertisers at Six Flags get the bigger picture of native advertising, and that’s why they’ll reap the bigger rewards, one screaming fan at a time.