A yearly tradition that draws well over 100,000 people to Readington will be back again July 24-26, 2020 but under a new title sponsor.
The biggest summertime hot air balloon festival in North America, formerly known as the QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning, is seeking a new title sponsor as QuickChek shifts its marketing strategy and increases its investments toward new stores and a digital marketing program.
QuickChek will remain part of the festival but in a different capacity. The festival has allowed QuickChek to deliver its message for 27 years, according to QuickChek Chief Executive Officer Dean Durling. Now, it’s time “for someone else to enjoy the success we’ve had as its title sponsor,” Durling said.
Media impressions of the 2019 event totaled 918 million, a measured media value of $30 million for the brands and services that supported it.
It’s a good news event, and that’ll translate to any brand that chooses to become involved with us.
– Howard Freeman
“It’s the premier family-oriented festival in the state. Any new brand that comes aboard is going to get a tremendous amount of publicity,” said Howard Freeman, co-owner of the Fairfield-based event company The Festival Group and of the ballooning festival. “It had $52 million of economic impact this year and raised more than $3 million for charity, so it’s perfect for someone who wants to be recognized as a great community partner, someone who’s looking for brand awareness or, for a retailer, someone looking to increase traffic.”
Freeman and his partner John Korff became owners of the then 10-year-old balloon festival in 1993 and have grown it dramatically.
When they bought it, Freeman said it pulled around 25,000 attendees. This year, 169,500 people attended, and the average family spent 7.5 hours watching balloon ascensions, visiting vendors, and watching the weekend’s varied non-stop entertainment.
Grammy award-winning pop-country band The Band Perry headlined the event. Over the years, top acts like Pat Benatar, Meatloaf, Third Eye Blind and the Doobie Brothers have played the festival.
Freeman describes the balloon festival as a “good news event.”
“The unique thing is no CEO woke up today and said, ‘I have to sponsor a balloon festival.’ If they’re a golfer, they’ll sponsor a tournament, of it they’re a sports fan, they’ll get involved with the Jets, Giants or Yankees; but what QuickChek realized 27 years ago is that there’s no winning or losing in balloon festival. All the balloons get to the finals. We’ve never had a balloon get caught in a drug scandal. We’ve never had a balloon get caught on steroids. It’s a good news event, and that’ll translate to any brand that chooses to become involved with us.”
The visual spectacle of 100 balloons in the sky makes for the perfect shareable moment: from the ground, from the sky, and on social media or in real-time.
“When you talk about social media and FOMO, we have to be one of the top 10 events in the country for most Instagrammable and social media pictures. It’s the perfect social and digital opportunity. Everyone’s looking for experiences they can share with their friends. When they’re sharing an experience that has your brand on it, it’s a win-win for everyone,” Freeman said.
Five ascensions happen over the course of the weekend, with some of the 100 balloons taking passengers. Last year, 1,500 passengers took “up, up, and away” rides, and 2,500 passengers took tethered rides.
About 20 percent of the balloons are in special shapes, like the PNC Salutes America balloon shaped like a large flag. The title sponsor gets their pick of special shaped balloons. This year, QuickChek had a lighthouse shaped balloon. Previous years’ shapes including a saxophone and giant eagle.
“If advertising is a medium and a billboard is a large, what would you call an ad on the side of a 100-foot hot air balloon located between two of the largest media markets in the country?” he said.
While the festival continues to grow each year and maximizing impressions is important, he said the event’s not really just about maximizing impressions anymore.
“It’s about maximizing relationships,” Freeman said. “It allows a brand to maximize relationships with clients, potential clients, and employees.”