With the promise of 1.5 million to 2 million people traveling to Philadelphia for the historic visit of Pope Francis, there was potential for this extraordinary event to be a marketer’s dream come true. Long before his highly anticipated arrival, many media packages and special advertising opportunities involving the World Meeting of Families and the Pope’s visit were readily available for advertisers to attach themselves to this prominent occasion.
These opportunities were seemingly limitless and included ways to reach both tourists and locals at every turn, whether they were visiting Philadelphia or following along from home within the Philadelphia market. There were TV sponsorships, airport and transit coverage, radio packages, digital, newspaper, and out of home billboards just to name a few. Even existing placements had the opportunity to reach this massive audience unintentionally.
Ultimately, the crowds did not hit the anticipated levels and attendance was lower than expected, with 860,000 in attendance according to one early estimate.
The Papal visit had mass appeal for sure. WPVI-TV came out with the highest ratings for the Sunday Papal Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway with a 7.9 household rating. However, fragmentation was the word of the day with the mass being broadcast on most of the major broadcast stations and cable news networks. Interestingly though, NFL still dominated the Philadelphia marketplace with the Eagles achieving a 25.8 household rating on the same day as the mass (the game was over just a few minutes after the 4PM mass started).
From a local economic standpoint, Philadelphia businesses did not fare as well as expected and experienced fragmentation of their own. According to an early report by City Controller Alan Butkovitz, of 41 businesses surveyed within the festival grounds, restaurants were down by 55 percent from their normal weekend business, retail stores were down by 79 percent and even hotels were at a lower occupancy rate compared to a regular weekend. The losses in business made the news in Philadelphia and nationwide.
In theory, more people could have been present and more people could have watched from home, but maybe this historic experience wasn’t all about the numbers after all. In an industry driven by impressions, ROI and bottom lines, perhaps it just didn’t matter in this instance.
According to Meryl Levitz, president and chief executive of Visit Philadelphia, “Pilgrims went to Philadelphia to “be in the aura of the pope,” not to spend a lot of money…To look at a grassroots spiritual event in terms of immediate economic benefit is asking too much of it.”
So does this mean the marketers efforts were in vain as well? If the pilgrims were light spenders at the local shops and restaurants during their trip to Philadelphia, is that indicative of their normal spending habits, or was this trip truly not about consumerism and focused on spirituality?
Maybe it wasn’t a drastic upswing in sales that is easily quantified on a balance sheet, but attaching your brand to this once-in-a-lifetime experience is sure to do wonders for awareness and favorable opinions of holy magnitude.
WCAU-TV asked its viewers to describe the Pope’s historic visit in a single word. Of the 1000+ responses, ‘inspiring,’ ‘amazing,’ and ‘awesome’ were the answers given the most.
Who wouldn’t want their brand attached to that sentiment?