AirVenture Reset: Marketing to the Masses

By Scott Spangler on July 28th, 2021

Selling aviation stuff to pilots and flying aficionados is one of the foundational enterprises of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. It is a multilayered effort. EAA sells indoor and outdoor exhibit space to companies, and employing a variety of tactics, some more effective than others, those companies do their best to snag the attention of the multitude of passers-by, and in this post-pandemic AirVenture reset, the exhibit buildings were busier than I’ve seen them in more than a decade.

Before the pandemic, the media presentations at EAA Press Headquarters were an integral component of this effort. The News Conference/Media Event Schedule, posted online and on the wall of PHQ, subdivided every day into 45 minute blocks, and in years past, almost everyone of them was spoken for, with the only blank spots showing up gap-toothed on the final weekend. This year the schedule essentially ended Wednesday afternoon, with only the EAA media briefings taking spots during the rest of the week.

This really wasn’t too much of a concern because most of aviation’s primary marketers stopped announcing their new products in dog-and-pony presentations on AirVenture’s stage years ago. They transferred that effort online because it’s economically efficient, and it doesn’t have a time limit or av-hardware technical problems. Another benefit of announcing new products and services online is the ability to capture their customer’s attention one-on-one, usually in the quiet, comfortable environment of their own home.

Garmin took that comfort to the next level for its AirVenture reset by air conditioning its vast exhibit pavilion, where potential customers and the curious could get a hands-on lesson from Garminites who know the ins and outs of the spectrum of avionics equipment. It was a constantly busy place and people were crowded around the panel displays at least two or three deep.

The other avionics companies, Aspen, Avidyne, and Collins each had anchor positions in separate exhibit hangars, and their representatives were likewise surrounded by the curious craning their respective necks to see what button-and-touch-screen-ology was taking place. And as I paced my way through the buildings, it was good to see many of the familiar avionics shops in their usual places and usually in deep, demonstrative conversations with customers.

Exhibit building density is one of my markers for overall AirVenture attendance. I had to recalibrate this several years ago when EAA, several years before the pandemic came to town, socially distanced the width of the exhibit hall aisles. This year, EAA added some equally wide side-to-side aisles, but at two different times on two different days, all of these aisles were as busy as the old narrow aisles were about a decade ago. On my pre-pandemic exhibit building excursions, I would peruse every aisle in a minutes-long nonstop stroll. This year, it took more than a half hour of moist, close quarters creeping.

At least that was the case in three of the four exhibit hangars. Exhibit Hangars A and C on the north side were the busiest. On the south side, Hangar B was noticeably less crowded than A and C, but it was way busier than Hangar D, home to many of the non-aviation exhibitors and the Federal Pavilion, which was sparsely populated because the pandemic precluded travel for nearly all of AirVenture’s foreign participants.

The Fly Market, just west of Hangar D was essentially unchanged, and it looked like most of its long-time denizens survived the pandemic. During the downtime it seems like they undertook some projects of their own, like mounting a DC-3 fuselage on a truck frame to make it a street-legal (?) air show hauler. But the best deal of the show this year was found at EAA’s site-wide merch tents, AirVenture 2020 t-shirts for $5.

An unexpected surprise was the pretty much naked faces of the “For Sale” bulletin boards, just east of the tower and EAA Merchandise building. Usually they are furry walls of paper fluttering in the breeze, but not this year. Could this be that people have nothing for sale, or might this reset be, like classified ads in ink-and-paper publications, another casualty of the internet?

Another surprise was how full the grounds remained on Wednesday, traditionally the crowd turnover day. With severe weather working its way east, pilots were bugging out all day, but their departures were sporadic rather than a consistent stream. The unknown reset facets have made this AirVenture interesting and unpredictable and its every day dawns with anticipation.

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

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