Selasa, 17 November 2009

Big Brand On Campus

By Dale Buss
If the Western philosophy of higher education hadn’t done it for them already, today’s marketers certainly would have had to invent the modern college campus. There’s simply nowhere else they can find a nearly captive audience of Generation Y-ers, away from home and wide open to a flood of new influences on brand choices that they will be making and, in many cases, sticking with for years to come.
And oh, yes: This ultra-convenient venue for marketers comes complete with a student union to generate targeted traffic flow; mini-focus groups including fraternities and sororities; and, increasingly, the cooperation of college officials who understand, perhaps reluctantly, that today their ivied towers almost inevitably must yield more to commercialization than the relatively cloistered campus confines of even a generation ago.
Right now might be the best time in years for on-campus marketing initiatives because some of most active advertisers of the 90s, the dot-coms, have vanished. In fact, as millions of college students across the US head into their second semester, they're being targeted by more and more of what can only be called traditional major marketers: automakers such as Volkswagen and Honda, entertainment brands including MTV and Playboy, and communications brands including Sprint PCS.

Methods and tactics vary, but to succeed in breaking through the cacophony of competing voices in the collegiate environment, brand-marketing executives are applying these six principles:
Take it seriously: Capturing the college consumer requires a commitment that more brands are willing to make because they realize the short-term benefits, such as the chance to fuel a buzz about an innovative new product as well as the long-term benefits, which often revolve around trying to win customers for life.

While researching the market for its just-introduced Element SUV, for example, Honda Motor Co. visited fraternity houses at the University of Southern California, the University of Washington and three other campuses to convene informal focus groups. Honda engineers and designers shared sketches of the vehicle with fraternity members over beer and pizza and the fraternity received donations in return for its members' input. Honda asked fraternity leaders to invite only "people who were articulate and opinion leaders, and by default many of them were business majors," says Aziz Ucmakli, an advanced product planning analyst for Torrance, California-based Honda R&D. "We were hoping to get a better understanding of how the car might fit into their lifestyle."

Honda was so pleased with the results, Ucmakli says, that it later conducted a second round of discussions with the same fraternity groups, this time bringing with them more refined drawings. "We wanted to ascertain whether we had understood them correctly the first time," he says. "We were pretty surprised by their marketing and industry savvy." The students' feedback figured in the final configuration of the Element, and the exercise helped seed interest in the vehicle, at least on those five campuses.

For Bible publisher Harper Collins/Zondervan, the college campus represents perhaps the single most important market for its one-year-old translation of the New Testament, called Today's New International Version (TNIV). The twist behind the TNIV is that it's a gender-neutral translation of a decades-old Bible, the New International Version, which is the favorite of conservative Protestants across North America. Many prominent evangelical leaders actually have come out against the TNIV, but Zondervan is hoping to do an end-run around them by popularizing the book on campuses.

"We're targeting key gatekeepers such as the leaders of local chapters of campus Bible studies and parachurch organizations," says Chris Doornbos, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Zondervan. "Many of them are working their way through it even now and loving what they're seeing. And their opinions will be crucial in gaining acceptance for the TNIV going forward" among the Generation Y Christians who will be crucial to the ultimate success of the translation.

Become part of their lives: Experts say that college students bond best with brands that extend themselves beyond conventional marketing tactics to attempt to appeal to them in some broader or deeper way. "The way to get loyalty isn't through just sampling or postering but to show some kind of connection to your audience," says Kevin Colleran, the 21-year-old president and co-CEO of a startup called BlabberForce Enterprises Inc., who consults with companies on college marketing.

College Television Network (CTN), for example, has 6,500 television monitors on 800 campuses nationwide, which broadcast a proprietary mix of information, entertainment and features specifically related to each campus. It's supported by advertisers including ESPN, the History Channel and other cable providers, Nintendo and other video game makers, and cosmetics brands such as Clairol. New York City-based CTN includes a large service component, such as a show called Paydirt, which presents career advice from alumni who've been out in the working world for several years.

Harness the power of music: More than ever, it's the common denominator of the college experience and many, many brands look for ways to take advantage of it.

The angle is obvious for MTV, and the Viacom cable channel doesn’t squander the opportunity. This spring will be the fifth year that MTV has deployed some kind of mobile promotional campaign. The initiative in spring 2002, called the Campus Invasion 2K2 Interactive Music Expo, traveled to 20 universities around the nation. It included a "music playground" where students could jam along with their favorite music tracks, add instruments and vocals, perform onstage and then take home a custom CD and picture of their performance. Students also had the opportunity to have a virtual "audition" with Ozzy Osbourne and there were stations where they could experience the latest in music-listening technology.

"The biggest challenge we had was coming up with something that was really new and different that would enhance and extend MTV's relationship with students," says Jane Hawley, an executive of Jack Morton Worldwide, the New York City-based creative agency that handled the mobile tour for MTV. "Music is still a big part of their world, so every element we created was driven by some kind of music."

Other brands aren't hesitating to appropriate the power of music either. Volkswagen of America, for example, conducted a one-month promotion in the fall of 2002 that was highlighted by on-campus concerts by Rusted Root, warmed up by a local band that had won the privilege by besting other local bands in a submission of demo tapes to VW. "We've always had an association with hip, cool music, and this keeps the face of VW tied to it," says Heidi Korte, manager of promotions and sponsorships for the Auburn Hills, Michigan-based auto company.

Offer unique experiences: Music is only one way for marketers to provide memorable cameos that college students often will associate positively with a brand. CTN's Music Binge Tour includes a shower, suggestively called the Organic Experience, that is sponsored by Clairol for its Herbal Essence shampoo, whose past TV commercials have featured sex therapist Dr. Ruth. Playboy has sponsored an online video game tournament among college players for US$ 1,000. Volkswagen events have included a game called "Find Your Twin and Win" in which students must find their peer somewhere on campus who has the number that matches their own.
Last spring (2002), a PR agency contracted, the student chapter of the Public Relations Society of America at Arizona State University. For a US$ 500 donation, the students were asked to come up with a promotional initiative that would appeal especially to the college-aged women who are the primary target market for Zilactin, a cold- and canker-sore medicine made by Phoenix-based Zila Pharmaceuticals. What emerged was a "Stressbuster Olympics" on the campus quad that included a yoga demonstrator, free massages – and samples of Zilactin.

"Finals are a big reason for stress and therefore cold-sore outbreaks on campus," explains Dana Weidaw, senior account executive for the Scottsdale, Arizona-based agency, Lavidge & Baumayr. "This was a chance to wrap the brand in an experience that helped associate a good emotion with it."

Recognize where you are: Colleran, a student at Babson College in Wellesley, MA, stresses that brand marketers must understand that every college campus is a bit different from the rest, with its own personality, and shape a campaign to account for those differences. Another major imperative for marketers is to acknowledge that a college or university is an autonomously governed environment that isn't the same as the "open society" off-campus.

"We're very mindful of relationships with schools and with the fact that we're there by invitation," says CTN's Brown. "For instance, we're not going to put someone on our music tour who could be very controversial and we try to keep admission fees low. We use a strategy of holding hands with the school."

Colleges will often try to make sure that a physical exhibit, for example, fits into a given area or onto a given space reserved on campus for marketing efforts. Administration may reserve on-campus marketing campaigns to specific days of the week, or they may require marketers to partner with local food vendors or a school publication.

"You must have a template but it has to be flexible," says Ranie Vernon, a public relations executive who manages some of the campus-marketing activities for Sprint PCS.

Deploy peers: The most effective on-campus marketers, brand owners say, are people who seem like college students. That's why Sprint PCS's "field-marketing" team is mostly 20-somethings who visit campuses during class registrations and other important moments and wander an area in front of a student union or other landmark hawking the mobile-phone service. "Kids shy away from salespeople who are much older than them or who don't look like them or talk like them," says Vernon, who is with Greenville, South Carolina-based Leslie Agency, a marketing communications firm.

And while it's easier to control like-aged outsiders who rep on campus, Colleran says, "It's just too difficult for them to connect with kids." Thus, more marketers that are serious about on-campus customers are establishing their own networks of "campus reps" – especially brands that can attract students to represent them without much financial compensation, just by rubbing off some cool on them. Sony Music, Red Bull energy drinks and Playboy have three of the most robust networks of campus reps nationwide.

Playboy Publishing, for example, is now aiming to expand its staff of campus reps to about 200 this year from a corps of about 150 last year and about 100 when it launched the program five years ago. (The New York City-based company says 15 percent of the representatives are women.) To eliminate hangers-on, Playboy requires applicants to have a 3.0 grade point average and a resume that includes extracurricular activities such as serving as the social chairperson for a fraternity or sorority.

The reps usually work an average of one or two hours a week for little recompense other than Playboy-branded apparel, says Lisa Natale, senior vice president and marketing director for Playboy Publishing. During a big on-campus campaign, each rep might be working several hours a week and also collect, say, US$ 200 for their efforts. "They don't get compensated much monetarily," Natale says. "Just being part of the Playboy brand is exciting for them."

Playboy reps' duties still center around throwing parties for the brand and, as was done during the Sony festival, scouting campus locations for promotions, placing ads in the college newspaper and on the campus radio station, and helping to run the event. But in these leaner times, Natale says, Playboy also has begun to use its campus reps more for helping build databases of fans of the brand and potential subscribers. Initially each rep, for example, must provide to Playboy information about 50 individuals who will volunteer to receive the company's email newsletters as well as online coupons for Playboy merchandise.

"Reps are very receptive to this new requirement because they've opted in to become part of the database network themselves," Natale says. "It's fun and very glamorous." Which is exactly the light that will positively reflect on your brand.

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