The Canadian National Exhibition, home of midway marriages and mini-doughnuts, is giving the brand a makeover. The annual fair, held Aug. 18 to Sept. 4 in Toronto, has launched a new ad campaign.

“One of the challenges with the CNE is it’s like a three-ring circus,” says Karen Lynch, the CNE’s marketing manager. “There are a thousand different things on every day. So in the past we would try very hard to say we were everything.”

Field Day co-pitched for the business with Gaggi Media, which recommended a media buy that will result in the CNE doing no TV advertising for the first time in some 30 years. Instead, outdoor and online were increased significantly and radio was bumped up as well (albeit using fewer stations). Lynch says exit surveys done at the 2005 fair showed poor awareness of TV ads. She also pointed out television viewership tends to decline in mid-summer, when the CNE spots normally run.

The campaign, created by Field Day, includes print, outdoor, radio and transit ads. Field Day's goals were to simplify the message and to consistently communicate the consumer experience.

This year's message focuses on five distinct themes: fun, family, friends, food and shopping. The central brand position is still “Let’s go to the EX,” but the ads feature a campaign theme of “The EX Marks the Spot.” One visual, for example, shows a boy and his grandfather on a roller coaster, with the tag line “The EX marks the spot for fun.”

One radio spot takes a humorous approach to attract teens, using the voice of a grandfather remembering the CNE of yesteryear, complete with rides made out of "cardboard and string and spit."

“The audience for the EX is diverse – kids, parents, grandparents – and they are all looking for something different from the EX. The fair has been around for a hundred-odd years and a younger audience may see it as something that’s in tune with their parents’ generation,” says Andrew Arntfield, president and creative director of Field Day in Toronto. "But what remains consistent across the board is consumer desire for good value and a professional, high quality experience. That wasn't clearly communicated in the past, but new campaign says all of that."

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