Marketing Weirdby Richard Moore on April 23, 2009
A while back I received a book called Weird Florida by Charlie Carlson. The book showcases all the weird tourist attractions and weird natural phenomena in Florida, which was interesting to me because I grew up in Florida and took a lot of these attractions and natural features for granted. Near Orlando where I grew up there was Gatorland, whose entrance was a wide gaping alligator mouth made out of concrete, jutting out toward U.S. 441. From 1960 through 1980, before the Florida Alligator made a comeback, Gatorland was the place to see live, big alligators. At one time, you could even buy a baby caiman (a South American species of alligator) from Gatorland as a pet.
Another weird Florida site near Orlando was the Oviedo Lights. This was not a commercial site, but just a small bridge over a swampy area around Oviedo, Florida. Legend has it that mysterious lights would rise out of the swamp and float across the water. Although it was never publicized before appearing in Weird Florida, it was well-known to the teenagers growing up in Central Florida in the ‘70s.
Weird Florida also interested me because of how some of these sites were marketed. There was no internet or social media at the time to promote these weird sites in Florida. In the case of Gatorland, there was just an enormous alligator mouth threatening to clamp down on tourists and locals who dared to walk inside. In the case of the Oviedo Lights, it was viral marketing before anyone had ever used the term. Almost every high school teenager knew about the Oviedo Lights even if they had never been there. Most of us claimed to be experts on when the lights appeared, even if we had been there only once.
Weird Florida, both the book and most of the sites themselves, still exists. On your next trip to the Sunshine State, after visiting Disney World and getting sunburned at the beach, make all that is weird about Florida part of the trip. At least while they are still around to enjoy.