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The Art and Science of Opportunity Marketing

There is nothing like a natural occurring event by Mother Nature to get the attention of Earth’s resident mortals. Hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and catastrophic natural wildfires draw rabid attention from those wanting to be on the scene to experience the calamity such events cause. Some even chase after tornados to capture the thrill and angst associated with nature’s dominating fury. And who has not peered into the darkened skies of night to view a shooting star or the passing of the planet Venus? With such overwhelming interest in experiencing nature’s grandeur, it should not be surprising that one event, that only occurs once or twice in a human lifetime, would catch the attention of millions of wanton observers.

A total solar eclipse, the blocking out of the sun by the earth’s moon, only happens once every 20 or more years across the earth’s geography. The first recorded solar eclipse was in 968 AD. While the planet’s occupants misunderstood the event as an act of evil gods, we eventually learned the real cause as being natural and fearless. Prior to this year, the last total blocking of the sun to Earth was in 2017, and we all now know that it was nothing more than the universe’s planets experiencing natural intersectional traffic patterns. But, given the limited geographical areas where the event can be viewed, solar eclipses tend to gain considerable hype and attention. The eclipse of April 8, 2024, will go down in history as a major economic event in the U.S.

Eclipse TeamMore than 31 million earthlings were in the pathway of the celestial event as the sun traveled across Mexico and the U.S. from south to north. Many of the best viewing areas were small towns and villages that most Americans would never think of visiting. Millions of Americans sought to book hotel rooms and travel services ahead of the event, giving hospitality providers an opportunity to raise rates and fill up available accommodations. “Blackout” themed promotions for cruises, vacation give-away deals, rail bike tours, viewing parties, and restaurant promos became commonplace and transformed the planetary dance into a mega marketing event. The state of Vermont predicted an exchange of more than $50 million due to the event. Erie, Pennsylvania, an out-of-the-way community, saw hotel room prices soar by more than 273 percent over the same period last year. Interstate 79, the main north and south thoroughfare to and from Erie, experienced a 27-mile back-up of traffic as viewers made their way to a prime viewing spot on the state’s map.

Many savvy mayors and council members had the foresight to anticipate the coming event for more than two years and were in the position to turn the day’s celestial happening into a festival of success for constituents. Marketers of everything from boogie boards, Casper mattresses, and Krispy Kreme doughnuts to Omaha Steaks and a number of fashionistas’ “black-out apparel” took advantage of opportunistic campaigns. The restaurant chain Denny’s offered an all-you can eat “Moon Cake Deal” for its pancake fans. Rental car companies, ride-share brands, and airlines were not to be left out of a bonanza payday. Airlines offered exclusive tour packages that followed the eclipse path across the countries involved. Rental car companies scrambled to relocate inventory to anticipated high visitation areas. Even the fruit brand Chiquita managed to promote the crescent shape of a banana. But not everyone was favorably excited about the celestial moment.

Outplacement company Challenger, Gray & Christmas found a way to cast aspersions toward the viewing event, predicting that productivity would suffer an estimated $700 million loss to employers. “There’s very few people who are not going to walk outside when there’s a celestial wonder happening above their heads to go out and view it,” said Andy Challenger, vice president at Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The prediction proves that even in once-in-a-lifetime occurrences, there are those not-so-rare moments when someone will step forward to rain on the parade of enthusiasm.

Much of the increase in hype and enthusiasm for this decade’s total eclipse over previous moon-blocking passings may be attributed to social media participation and digital marketing strategies. Given the anticipated advances in digital communication technologies over the next decade, it is wise for all the marketers and revelers of Eclipse 2024 to begin planning for the next total solar blackout scheduled for 2044. While not all of us will be here to join in the celebration, it promises to be an exciting, rare, and profitable event for a new generation.