Davidson Development Inc. was the primary engine behind the project that came to be known as World Golf Village, an upscale development located between Jacksonville and Saint Augustine, Florida, combining residential, commercial, and recreational zones. The Village’s centerpieces were the World Golf Hall of Fame and a course designed by legendary PGA (Professional Golfers’ Association) champions Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, called King & Bear in honor of the two players’ respective nicknames. Initial attempts at marketing the area to home buyers took golf purists as their target market, but after several years of lackluster sales in its Estates of World Golf Village subdivision, Davidson turned to Atlanta–based agency Cole Henderson Drake (CHD) for a marketing campaign that would remake the development’s image.
The Estates of World Golf Village ‘‘Repositioning Campaign’’ made use of a $700,000 annual budget during its 2003–04 run. CHD sought to change consumer perception of World Golf Village by drawing attention to the opportunities for gracious living present in the development rather than focusing solely on the golfing amenities, and it calibrated its message not for male golfers but for baby-boomer women, who were believed to play a larger role than their husbands in making home-buying decisions. The campaign primarily consisted of a series of two-page print spreads, with black-and-white photos and copy emphasizing the elegance and inspirational nature of the Estates lifestyle.
The campaign coincided with a 170 percent sales growth of Estates properties, and Davidson’s revenues far outpaced precampaign goals. A tracking study indicated, furthermore, that CHD had successfully recast World Golf Village’s image. In 2005 the ‘‘Repositioning Campaign’’ won a Silver EFFIE Award in the Real Estate category.
The PGA Tour’s World Golf Hall of Fame in Pinehurst, North Carolina, was opened in 1974, but in the 1980s the PGA began searching for a site on which to build a similar facility that would honor golfers not eligible for the World Golf Hall of Fame. In the early 1990s a location between Jacksonville and Saint Augustine, Florida, was donated to the cause, and a number of worldwide golf clubs and associations pledged their support. The PGA eventually decided to close its Pinehurst facility and combine operations with the Florida facility under the name World Golf Hall of Fame. Construction began in 1996, and the Hall opened in 1998, boasting the support of 26 golf organizations from around the world.
World Golf Village was the name given to the multifaceted development surrounding the Hall of Fame. Conceived as a golfers’ resort destination as well as an upscale residential area, the development featured two golf courses, the more notable of which was called King & Bear, named after its designers, the golf greats Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. The development mixed retail, commercial, residential, and resort amenities, but for a variety of reasons initial sales of the mostly high-end real estate did not meet expectations. The location itself (in a previously little-developed area) was faulted by some in the local real-estate industry, and a related lack of vehicle traffic made it difficult to create buzz in the community. Prospective buyers and members of adjacent communities did not have a clear understanding of the development’s aims outside of serving as a site for the World Golf Hall of Fame, and the lack of inhabitants made potential homeowners question the vibrancy of the community into which they were being asked to buy. In many cases these criticisms were shared or propagated by important local opinion makers, including real-estate agents and the press. The lack of enthusiasm surrounding the project led to stalled plans for further development of the site as well as reductions in investment on behalf of the project’s backers. If the development was to satisfy investors’ initially grand visions, it needed an image makeover.
Previous marketing on behalf of World Golf Village had focused on the Hall of Fame and the golf courses in an attempt to appeal to a logical target market—golf-obsessed men—but this strategy had not so far resulted in a sufficiently attractive image to drive developers’ and investors’ sales goals. Davidson thus enlisted Atlanta agency Cole Henderson Drake (CHD) to create a print campaign for the Estates of World Golf Village, a community within the larger development featuring homes priced at $500,000 and higher. The agency needed to respond to the perceived shortcomings of the World Golf Village image while offering fresh strategic insights.
CHD took the lackluster sales results so far posted by the Estates subdivision as evidence that previous advertising efforts had been wrongly conceived. Though the exclusive targeting of male golf enthusiasts was clearly a commonsense approach to the image-building project of a development featuring world-class golf courses and a shrine to the sport’s greatest players, CHD observed that women tended to have the most influence in selecting a community and home. CHD particularly focused on women of the baby-boom generation with upscale habits and tastes—many of whom still had kids at home—rather than the retirees or empty-nesters who might also have been likely to have the financial resources to buy into the Estates neighborhood. These women, CHD believed, valued the emotional attributes of a potential home. The apparent lack of vibrancy in the World Golf Village community was thus a formidable barrier to these key home buyers, as was the idea that the development was strictly for golfers. Though the target group of women appreciated the amenities typically found in upscale golf communities, the golf attractions themselves were only tangential factors in their decision making. They primarily wanted assurance that the community they were choosing was healthy, balanced, and had a promising future.
CHD further decided to market the Estates beyond the local area, targeting affluent residents of the northeastern United States in addition to regional and local women. Prospects from outside the immediate area would not be affected by local perceptions and would be more accustomed to the premium prices of the homes in the Estates neighborhood. The Estates’ affiliation with an entity as prestigious as the World Golf Hall of Fame, as well as the fact that home sites were adjacent to a world-class golf course, made this a reasonable if ambitious expansion of the target.
The years 2000–05, though they were marked by a struggling American economy in general, saw one of the country’s most substantial real-estate booms in history. Real-estate companies of various sorts, flush with profits thanks to the boom, turned increasingly to the imagebuilding power of advertising, which generally represented an attempt not just to spur sales but also to hedge against the ever-present threat of a market downturn. Among real-estate agencies, several nationwide firms were actively engaged in brand-building efforts. Re/Max was the U.S. market leader, and it increased ad spending by 10 percent in 2002 before turning to Los Angeles agency davidandgoliath for a $30 million national campaign, which was released in 2004. Century 21 boosted ad spending by more than 60 percent in 2002, up to an annual ad budget of roughly $25 million. It ran a 2003 campaign tagged ‘‘Real estate for your world.’’ Meanwhile, Coldwell Banker in 2003 launched a $14 million national campaign touting the realtor’s ‘‘Concierge’’ program, which provided logistical aid to new home owners. Some notable innovations in advertising were made by new-home developers during this time as well. Ryland Homes, a home builder with offices across the nation, worked with the media-sales firm WorldLink and a TV distributor to create an original syndicated TV program called America’s Moving To . . . The show, which named Ryland as a sponsor and featured content specially designed to resonate with the company’s target consumers, ran in local markets with a Ryland presence and highlighted housing choices in cities around the country. A group of developers of new-home subdivisions in the San Francisco Bay area turned to a similar concept in 2003, banding together to underwrite the show Bay Area New Home Living Featuring Sunset Magazine. The halfhour show featured two- to three-minute segments sponsored by and showcasing the developments of individual home builders. These segments were interspersed with decorating, architectural, and lifestyle content sponsored by Sunset Magazine.
The ‘‘Repositioning Campaign’’ ran during 2003 and 2004. It focused on print executions but also included outdoor ads, direct mail, public relations, and promotional tie-ins. Its yearly budget was a relatively minimal $700,000, and hence a premium was placed on effective selection of magazines rather than on blanket coverage. The ads were placed primarily in lifestyle magazines with editorial content that included travel, finance, and style. This was a departure from previous World Golf Village advertising, which had run mostly in local and regional newspapers. Not only did lifestyle magazines allow Davidson and the Estates to appeal to upscale consumers outside the region, but they also served as a more appropriate context for the new ads’ elegantly understated visuals and two-page-spread formatting. The core message that CHD sought to communicate with the series of print ads was that the people who lived at World Golf Village were as special as the golf opportunities that were available. In keeping with the targetmarket shift, the agency wanted to alter the image of World Golf Village from that of a golf purists’ community to that of a fashionable, inspiring, exclusive, and yet approachable place to live. CHD took it for granted that consumers would understand the golf-centric elements of the development, and many ads used little golf imagery, focusing instead on the elegant lifestyle and prestige of the Estates in fashionable black-and-white photographs. Frequently these photographs were supported by nods to the prestige of the World Golf Hall of Fame and the King & Bear golf course, with logos appearing along with copy that detailed important information about the development. When an ad did focus explicitly on golf, that focus underscored the lifestyle pitch. For instance, one ad showed a man from behind, surveying a dramatic golf-course backdrop, and the accompanying copy stated, ‘‘Some refer to it as one of the top courses in the world. A lucky few refer to it as their backyard.’’ Overall, the campaign was meant to create a much-needed persona for the development rather than emphasize the quality of the homes and golf amenities.
Along with the series of print ads, CHD used eventfocused marketing of the Estates. Regular open houses spearheaded by the agency allowed local prospects to see the world-class development in their midst and resulted in a much-needed increase in traffic to the site. Out-of-town vacation packages, offered through direct mail, were also paired with tours of properties. Materials given to prospects after such tours and used by realtors carried messaging and images consistent with the print ads’ theme. The World Golf Village was also the exclusive real-estate sponsor of the Bloomberg financial service’s website.
During the two years of the campaign’s run, the Estates of World Golf Village saw its sales grow 170 percent, with sales revenues far outpacing Davidson’s goals. Traffic to the development substantially increased, according to CHD, and the ratio of prospects to sales drastically improved. Before CHD released the ‘‘Repositioning Campaign,’’ the ratio of prospects to purchasers of homes in the Estates neighborhood was greater than 1:100. By 2004 this ratio had narrowed to 1:10, well ahead of industry norms, which were approximately 1:20. CHD also pointed to strong evidence from a tracking study indicating that perceptions of World Golf Village were changing. Davidson vice president of marketing Alayna Kimball said in a press release, ‘‘We are very pleased with the campaign and its consistent message for the Estates. The ads were effective and instrumental in helping us exceed our sales goals.’’ The campaign won a Silver EFFIE Award in the Real Estate category in 2005, a testament to its effectiveness in the marketplace.