After a few decades in the marketing and PR business, I thought I had seen every imaginable technique for getting consumer and media attention. But I hadn’t considered corn. (Corn-y, yes, but that’s not what I’m talking about.) For sheer visual delight and true consumer interaction, you really cannot beat a 40-acre, custom-designed maze created in a giant cornfield. And The MAiZE, based in Spanish Fork, Utah, is the world’s largest maze consulting and design company, having helped connect farmers and sponsors to create unique mazes for such brands and organizations asAmerican Idol, the Super Bowl, the Obama presidential campaign, Disney, and even NASA. I recently interviewed Kamille Combs, marketing director for The MAiZE, about this homegrown art form and marketing cash crop.
Q: How did The MAiZE get into the business of creating brand-related mazes for farms around the country?
A: The idea for The MAiZE was born in 1993 when our founder, Brett Herbst, read an article in a magazine about a maze that was created by a designer from England. With the help of some enthusiastic college friends, Brett took the little money he had, rented some farm ground in Utah and, set his idea in motion. After news of his attraction spread, he drew more than 18,000 people in the three weeks he was open and The MAiZE was born. Farmers all over the country started seeking out his help. Now we work with more than 260 farms around the world, and more and more sponsors have also begun to play a role, sometimes having their logos featured in the designs.
Q: Can you describe some of your more successful branded campaigns?
A: Among our most popular designs are those that feature something guests recognize and love, such as sports teams, celebrities or something familiar in pop culture. They typically have huge loyal followings and their fans love to see them spotlighted, larger than life, in the cornfield! There has been a huge variety of designs featured in our mazes over the past 21 years, ranging from marriage proposals and cartoon characters to tributes to real people and organizations. Designs that get the most media coverage often feature celebrities like Taylor Swift, Garth Brooks and Derek Jeter.
Q: I understand the maze is just the centerpiece of a whole interactive experience for visitors. Can you elaborate?
A: While the corn maze is the core attraction, guests of all ages are able to enjoy everything from hayrides and pumpkin patches to newer attractions like apple cannons and cow trains. It's a type of what now known as agritourism or agritainment, and it provides an opportunity for farmers to diversify and, hopefully, make enough revenue to hold onto their small family farms. At the same time, it's giving the public an opportunity to create memories with their family in a farm setting, at a time when fewer and fewer people have a connection to where their food is grown.
Q: What elements are required to make best use of these mazes in a PR or marketing campaign?
A: With corn maze images being so captivating and impressive from above, often the best approach for attracting media coverage is to provide a high-quality aerial photo or B-roll to local media outlets. For some farms, this means hosting a press event, chartering a helicopter or small airplane, and flying media up to secure their own images. In other cases, especially with the rising popularity of drones, the farm secures their own images and distributes them to media. The subject matter of the maze and the more it appeals in a timely way to a local or regional audience definitely plays a part in how newsworthy it is viewed and whether or not the media want to cover the story.
Q: When is a custom-designed maze a good fit for a brand or an organization?
A: More and more companies and brands have begun to recognize the potential of corn mazes as giant billboards! The obvious opportunity this provides for mass exposure, combined with the chance to reach the thousands of people who actually visit each of the mazes, has created a partnership opportunity that can benefit both the brand and the farm. It’s an ideal fit for brands who are hoping to reach a family audience through a non-traditional advertising channel that offers great potential for news coverage, but also connects the brand to the community and provides a firsthand opportunity to share its message with the customer on the farm.
Q: Finally, how do you make sure visitors don’t get lost in the mazes?!
A: While the goal is certainly for guests to get lost in the maze, we make a lot of effort—through clues along the way, multiple exit points, and employees called Corn Cops or Crop Cops—to ensure that guests are only as lost as they want to be!
Editor's note: This article originally appeared on June 2, 2016, in Marketing:Entertainment.