The second largest festival of its kind in Canada, The Calgary International Children’s Festival (CICF) spans five days each May. Like any non-profit organization, its marketing budget was limited and the primary hurdle it faced was that despite its origins nearly 30 years previous, due to perpetually misguided marketing efforts focusing on creative for creative’s sake, many Calgarians were either not aware of its existence, or wrongly mistook the festival for a gathering of kids from around the world (putting on a festival of some sort) instead of its main thrust as a performing arts celebration of theatre, music, and dance by international artists for children and families.

A secondary challenge saw the festival as perceived as being suitable only for younger children, when in fact much of the programming is geared towards older youth (10 – 14 year olds) and their families. This secondary issue posed another problem – because the Festival had grown to encompass an age demographic (i.e. teens and young adults) that goes beyond the traditional definition of “children”, it faced the challenge of maintaining a patron base that was beginning to feel that the “Children’s Festival” was no longer relevant to them.

Quite simply, however, The Calgary International Children’s Festival means wonder and delight for the whole family. The true challenge was peeling back the layers to expose this beating heart…


Due to target audience reach and availability, and with a significant portion of the daytime attendance generated by school trips, it was important to address the marketing that was targeted towards educators first.

The first year campaign focused on the performance aspect of the festival, clarifying that the festival is a celebration of the arts with curriculum supportive messaging geared towards not only Calgary children, but youth and families as well. This messaging was targeted to speak to the specific interest of educators, parents and youth. In support of the public facing campaign, message and voice were adjusted to reflect the channel being used – Facebook and Twitter took on a more casual voice and focused on current news (i.e. fun facts about performances, actors or genres, as well as testimonials from children and parents vs. a dry listing of events), while print and traditional media were more generic and broad in their message (focusing upon family fun) while also targeted toward desired audiences through strategic placement and frequency. In phase two of the 2010 campaign, and in the 2011 campaign, more emphasis was placed on marketing the festival programming that was suitable for teens and families.

With substantial increased success of the marketing program each year (measurements based upon attendance and ticket sales as well as social media likes, follows and shares), simpler, broader messaging was possible in 2012 and 2013. Greater brand awareness and the strong emergence of brand loyalty allowed for the spotlight to be focused on (and reinforced through responsive and interactive social media campaigns and contests, as well as a blitz of tv, radio, transit, outdoor and print) the simple truth that The Calgary International Children’s Festival is fun for everyone.