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5 Min Read

The Battle of Tradition vs Innovation at Fairs

When was the last time you had to stop and get directions at a gas station? Maybe that one time that your phone died while driving home, but the instances are likely few (if any). How long does a debate amongst friends last when struggling to remember the name of that one actor who was in that movie? Likely no longer than it takes for someone to pull out their phone and audibly ask Google for the answer. Or maybe they even yell the question across the room at Alexa.

It’s finally happened: the generation whose lives have never known a time before the internet are now making independent purchases and dictating how their free time is spent. They live, breathe and interact in a virtual world, a world without limitations. When curious about a landmark thousands of miles away, an interactive street view brings them up close and allows them to navigate the space with just their mouse (or more likely, with their fingertip.)

How can live events to compete? Even more pressing, how are local state and county fairs able to compete with the infinite number of online possibilities that are genuinely more attractive to younger audiences?

Tradition vs Innovation

It’s no surprise that the digital world moves at an alarming pace. Take a break from your phone for a week and you’ll find most of your currently installed apps need updates.

The long-standing tradition of fairs and events held on fairgrounds have remained tried-and-true. Fairs have been a source of entertainment, goods exchange and education for centuries and though the struggle for new attendees is all too real, there are those in attendance that appreciate the traditions and come for the nostalgia. The expectations of the generational divide are essentially two opposite worlds: younger generations crave new, exciting and interactive experiences, while older generations expect the fair to fulfill the traditions of their youth.

Blending History with Technology

Fair boards across the country are likely to have or have already had a conversation that was centered around these concerns. What traditional events or attractions should be kept and which should be replaced in hopes of attracting a younger audience?

Before scratching certain events completely from the calendar, consider doing the following:

  • Survey/Poll:

The average user on Facebook is 30.9 years old and over 65% of users are over the age of 35; this is a fantastic demographic to conduct interactive surveys on the events being offered at the upcoming fair. On the plus side, you’re able to get an incredible amount of demographic data from the survey, i.e. age, sex, location, interests, etc. Furthermore, the respondents will be more involved when they feel their opinion has been taken into consideration in the planning of the fair.

  • Discussion

Take the time to reach out to the local community to ask younger attendees what they would like to see. Consider contacting a local high school and sitting down with them to learn more about what they like and their opinion on how the “county fair” could be more attractive to their friends to attend. Showing genuine interest in their wants and likes can have a positive impact on a pre-existing notion of what a fair is (and how’s it is adjusting to learn more about them!).

  • Evaluation

Of course, there is value in the numbers. Year-over-year historical data can help to provide a little bit more insight on what has been a major attraction in the past. The struggle with this however, is the evaluation needs to be deeper than just monetary or attendance figures. Some events with the largest impact (like an educational session on sustainability) have a return that is difficult to calculate. For instance, say the fair taught an entire family the impact that their use of pre-packaged foods has on the environment? They changed their habits and now only shop where bulk options are offered. Is it possible to put a number on that even if there was a way to collect the data in the first place? It’s highly unlikely, but incredibly valuable to the community.

Consider alternate methods of evaluation to accommodate for events such as these. Offer free fair passes for a lucky contributor to an online question asking them to specify their fondest memory of the fair (and if done right, there is potential in the comments that follow, “Oh yeah! That was one of my favorite things about the fair too!”).

Fairs are Community Events, so Look to the Community!

It’s important to keep up with the current trends that revolve around entertainment and technology, but fairs have a unique value in offering the long-standing traditions that attendees have grown to love and cherish. By working to actively get the community involved when considering changes to your events, your fair will greatly benefit from the direct input.

What traditions have you seen adapted at your fair? Let me know!