When it comes to targeting the college audience, marketers are not going by the books.
At the Academy Awards ceremony in March, CheckOut.com, a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based online entertainment company courting Tinseltown’s elite, stashed 600 hospitality baskets-stocked with champagne, breath mints and assorted hangover helpers-into limousines on the eve of the awards show.
At Adweek’s New York office in June, a man dressed as a giant mosquito delivered baskets of cookies to the editorial staff in an attempt to generate ink for The Discovery Channel’s new dot-com venture, Discovery.com.
And for three days beginning October 17 in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, models dressed as police officers-driving Chrysler PT Cruisers decked out as police cars-will write up fashion citations, courtesy of New York-based marketing company On the Go for client VH1 to help promote the network’s annual fashion awards show.
Increasingly, getting an advertiser’s message across to a large, mobile society requires such stealthy, military-like operations, ones frequently comprised of volunteers or poorly paid reps and utilizing radical or subversive strategies (without death and mayhem, of course). It’s known as guerrilla advertising and online and offline, it’s found the perfect targets for its radical methods: college students.
“It’s a marriage of the gray lines of advertising,” says Carter Reese, a longtime guerrilla marketer for a variety of dot-coms. “[Guerrilla marketing] has nothing do with [being legal or not], but rather being where people will take notice and allow for a positive brand interaction.”
Effectively reaching the elusive college market can be tricky business for advertisers. Students tend to be even more mobile than out-of-school targets, and traditional media outlets such as TV and print can sometimes miss this audience entirely because, presumably, they spend more time hitting the books than watching the boob tube. But there is much to gain: It’s estimated that college students spend more than $96 billion annually.
College campuses provide the perfect venue for guerrilla marketing-which runs the gamut from sidewalk chalking, biodegradable tree postings and stenciling to product give-aways and spray painting logos around campuses-since students by nature are open to nontraditional marketing schemes, say experts.
National guerrilla campaigns targeting college campuses are typically carried out by an army of paid “street” representatives.
“The idea is to keep the costs low so there is less overhead for the advertiser,” says Reese, whose most recent gig was director of marketing for Santa Monica, Calif.-based multi-media entertainment company College Broadcast.com, which recently laid off most of its staff when a second-round deal fell through. “This way it becomes a profit center versus a cost. If done right, a rep program can generate 75 percent margins.”
Reese’s guerrilla marketing campaigns for College Broadcast included the hiring of 1,500 students at 284 schools to put the company’s logo in areas such as coffee houses, student lounges, libraries and dorms. “Everything we painted or stenciled was washable,” explains Reese. “If you start stickering illegally on campus property you will get a fine.”
Some companies, however, want their logos or images on public property regardless of the penalty and factor fines into the budget. It’s a reality that longtime guerrilla artist Robbie Conal, who’s renowned for poking jabs at politicians ranging from Jesse Helms to Bill Clinton, calls “inevitable.” Street art, claims Conal, is merely utilizing space that marketers should have co-opted years ago.
Indeed, proponents of guerrilla marketing feel that the plethora of obvious but heretofore unused spaces, in addition to the tactics’ low costs and infinite opportunities for creativity, make stealth promotions the future of direct marketing. The following represents a sampling of what some marketers have up their sleeves for the Class of 2001.
A year ago, MTV funnyman Tom Green was a one-person college street rep in three TV spots for Bigwords.com, a San Francisco-based online college bookstore. This year, he’s become something of a cult figure thanks to his high-profile antics, cancer scare and engagement to actress Drew Barrymore. Green’s even appearing in the upcoming Charlie’s Angels flick. It’s safe to surmise that his asking price has grown. What’s a company to do?
Apparently, hire 1,000 students dressed in orange jumpsuits to help spread the Bigwords word. In addition, the company is dropping 20,000 color-coded superballs from the top of 50-foot cranes at select campuses, according to Justin Jaffe, communications manager for Bigwords.
Students attending college in one of the top-25 metropolitan markets this fall may find themselves with new clothes thanks to student reps at MusicBlitz.com, a Los Angeles royalty based off- and online music distributor of downloads for customized CDs. The company’s T-shirt Swap allows students to exchange the T-shirts on their backs for a MusicBlitz crewneck. The student reps, who will earn $200 a month and the promise of 500 stock options after 180 days, will also hand out flyers, stickers and samples at campus hot spots.
“I like to call it peer marketing,” says Rebecca Carroll, vp of artist development for MusicBlitz. “They are really the most credible people on campus.”
ROCK THE VOTE
You might think this fall’s presidential election is a non-event, but to ecampus.com, a Lexington, Ky.-based e-tailer of books and supplies, and now a presenting sponsor of Rock the Vote, it’s a party.
Rock the Vote is an 8-year-old effort by the recording industry to encourage involvement by young people in the political process. Ecampus is setting up booths on campuses “with a retro ’60s [look],” according to Philip Emmanuele, the company’s senior vp and CMO, and is “giving out more than 100,000 promotional items, including cups, T-shirts, frisbees and campaign buttons.”
In addition, ecampus.com is hitting 58 campuses nationwide in two yellow Humvees operated by “dot commandos,” who include a radio DJ and former Tennessee Titan football cheerleader. Emmanuele expects his “commandos” to “work their butts off” for eight straight weeks talking to students and handing out company paraphernalia.
Last anybody heard of dr.Drew.com, the Pasadena,Calif.-based entertainment site devoted to teen advice, it was collecting kudos faster than Tiger Woods. In mid-July, however, the site found out the hard way that accolades don’t necessarily translate into second-round funding. Instead, they’ve translated into layoffs, a canceled advertising campaign and a back-to-the-basics marketing plan, according to company spokesperson Valerie Gordon.
“All we’re doing right now is guerrilla marketing,” says Gordon. “Of course, Dr. Drew [Pinsky] is the cornerstone of that marketing.”
While the ongoing, infamous condom giveaway, e-mail, and postcard campaigns continue-beginning Aug. 25 at Iowa State University and ending in September at Students Splash 2000 in Philadelphia-this troubled site is banking that Pinsky, T-shirts, stickers and the MTV Loveline mystique (Dr. Drew cohosts the nationally syndicated radio and TV show) can save a dying dot-com.
In general, it helps to have Los Angeles Laker Shaquille O’Neal as both an investor and spokesperson, which is why Dunk.net, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based online distributor of customized athletic shoes and apparel, is already ahead of the game.
Dunk.net however, is not stopping with either O’Neal nor with its online design-your-own-shoe promotion. The company is also putting product samples in college bookstores, newspapers and kiosks, and is seeking students interested in creating written and photographic content for its site.
“By giving [these students] exposure online, we’re going to leverage their design skills, enthusiasm, marketing interests and creativity to build brand awareness,” says Lara O’Connor Hodgson, CIO of Dunk.net.
Of course, there are those who feel guerrilla marketing is a waste of time and money.
“[Guerrilla marketing] is inefficient, dumb marketing,” says Ian Leopold, president of Campus Concepts, a 15-year-old Baltimore-based integrated communications shop that targets the college market through existing university infrastrutures, such as intramural, recreation activities and music venues.
“[Guerrilla marketers] aren’t necessarily welcomed on campuses,” claims Leopold. “And because you can maybe target 25 schools maximum, it’s hit or miss. The most effective way to reach the college student market is not by building a new mouse trap-instead, it’s about enhancing the existing mouse traps.”
Campus Concepts relies on more traditional techniques such as billboards over the entrances of campus arenas and logos on team T-shirts. Some of their marketing efforts naturally take a good deal more money than guerrilla marketing tactics. The company, for one, bought and downloads for free the Intramural Program Scheduler software, which schools previously paid $2,000 annually to use.
Perhaps Campus Concepts is merely combining the best of both worlds: It’s reaching college students in fairly traditional if innovative ways while creating the appearance-and thus the buzz-of guerrilla marketing techniques.
Another company doing the same is Ford Motor Co., which plans to continue last year’s “College Movie Premiers” promotion at select schools. The Deerborn, Mich.-based manufacturer jumpstarted the program this summer in 270 Loews Cineplex Entertainment Corp.’s college town theaters. The program incorporates a giveaway sweepstakes and 30-second trailer for its “Dirt” Ford Focus model, according to Julie Roehm, car marketing communications manager for Ford. And thanks to a partnership with Ferndale, Wash.-based Kona Mountain Bikes, it also includes a value-added giveaway: a Focus “Dirt” bike to be sold with the car.
“We intend to pull a lot of triggers for the youth market,” says Roehm, whose mission is the same as guerrilla marketers everywhere: “To find out what’s cool-and what can we do to integrate that into [our product].”
When it comes to targeting the college audience, marketers are not going by the books.