Freshman Orientation

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

VANITY, THY NAME IS YOUTH When Johnson & Johnson’s Acuvue brand launched a campus tour last spring touting its new color contact lenses, the brand was confident that it would appeal to female students who got a chance to try on lenses and talk to an onsite optometrist.

So it was a happy surprise when a whopping 40% of the tour’s attendees turned out to be male. “We knew this product skewed female, but it wasn’t purely female. Men are interested in their looks, even more so at the college age than in other stages of life,” says Caroline Weaver, senior product director.

For the upcoming school year, Acuvue is considering running the tour again and tweaking it to account for male interest. Universal Consulting Group, Boston, handles.

Acuvue has joined the growing ranks of marketers shifting away from looking at college students as one big herd and trying to understand the nuances of the audience. College students have long attracted marketers because, compared to the general population, they’re a relatively easy audience to reach. College students are generally limited to a certain geographic area, they have some disposable income and, at a stage when many are just beginning to make brand decisions, they’re ripe for the plucking.

“This is a relatively easy audience to understand,” says Gary Colen, CEO at Boston-based youth specialist AMP. “Emotionally and financially, [college students] are much more predictable than the general population. If I say, OK, let’s target people over 21, that introduces a host of factors and problems: people getting married, people buying homes, etc. With college students, you can usually narrow down what they’re concerned with at that time.”

But that doesn’t mean this is a simplistic demographic. “Each year, more brands are asking about college students and about specific types of students,” says Derek White, CEO of Cranbury, NJ-based 360 Youth. “Marketers are realizing that this is not a monolithic set.”

And brands need to plan accordingly. “Incoming freshman have much different concerns than outgoing seniors, and brands need to be able to microsegment,” says Matt Britton, executive VP-sales and marketing and co-founding partner at New York City-based Mr. Youth.

Brands need to reach students at what 360 Youth dubs “key transactional periods.” Companies such as AT&T Wireless are targeting incoming freshman who may appreciate cell phones but don’t have a regular plan. Meanwhile, brands like Progressive Auto Insurance are targeting college seniors who may be buying their first car (or at least paying the insurance for the first time on their own).

Mr. Youth has a relationship with Barnes & Noble to run relevant promotions during certain periods at college bookstores, such as when freshman are getting books during orientation or seniors are picking up their caps and gowns.

Still, the most effective strategy is to strike up a relationship with students that continues well after the on-campus promotion is over. “Brands want to build a further relationship, not just say, ‘Here’s a T-shirt, see you later,” according to Jeff Frumin of Universal Consulting Group.

This fall, Mr. Youth and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) kick off a new promotional tour called TechKnow Overload (TKO). Last year CEA sponsored a similar tour dubbed ThunderDorm (PROMO, August 2002) that Britton helped develop while at YouthStream Media (now part of Alloy, Inc., which owns both 360 Youth and AMP).

Starting in September, TKO will run for nine months, stopping at college campuses, shopping malls and other youth destinations such as Spring Break, Mardi Gras and concert festivals, giving attendees a chance to interact with CEA sponsors and to get to know their products.

Students will be issued passports that must be stamped by each exhibit booth to enter a drawing giving away prizes such as DVD players. Participants must also provide some personal information, including e-mail addresses. “The ‘edu’ addresses are the Holy Grail [for marketers],” says Britton. “Students’ regular e-mail boxes are filling up with spam just like everyone else’s, but spammers can’t get the edu accounts.”

Drafting students for the cause

Four summers ago, CSU Pomona student Nick Felter decided to pick up a little extra cash by responding to an ad on for help with the Amstel Light Beach Patrol, Momentum Marketing’s gang of hard bodies pushing summer fun and Heineken brands.

When summer ended, Felter returned to campus as part of Momentum’s network of college student representatives, hawking products to his peers. “I tried to make suggestions under the radar,” says Felter. “A brand will get a much better reception [among college students] when it’s being promoted by someone their own age. A 40-year-old marketer just isn’t part of that student crowd.”

Using students to reach students is becoming the norm for college marketers as a way to establish credibility with the target audience.

Earlier this year, AMP and Harris Interactive conducted a study that found 65% of young adults hear or find out about new brands “from friends” and nearly half said they would be most likely to try a new product if “a friend recommended it.”

“Student representatives don’t have to be friends with everyone on campus; they just need be people who attend the same university and understand the mindset,” Colen says.

Taking the student point of view can reveal aspects of campus life that may have been overlooked. While working with colleges, New York City-based Zilo Networks, which produces college TV and live events, observed “step shows”: dance contests between fraternities that regularly draw between 5,000 and 10,000 attendees. “No sponsor had been there before,” says Zilo CEO David Isaacs.

This summer, Zilo participated at the Philly Greek parties in July and is planning a step contest tour in the fall with the U.S. Army as a sponsor.

For students, serving as a marketing rep is not only a way be the big man on campus, but often gain academic credit toward marketing degrees (or even a full-time job; today Felter is a field marketing manager at Momentum). This month, Nokia expands its New U college advertising program to universities around the country. Designed to tap marketing ideas from college students, New U gives students the chance to develop actual TV spots, including conceptualization, copy writing, filming and editing.

One winning ad will be chosen each semester based on online voting from consumers. Students who develop the winning ad for fall 2003 will receive a trip to the Nokia Sugar Bowl.

OnPoint Marketing, San Diego, which has almost 100,000 members in its Taste Makers student rep program, can barely keep up with the demand of students wanting to join, according to President Lucas Beddow. “There’s a whole underground network that’s running the show behind the scenes. These aren’t paid shills, they’re doing it because they like the product — they won’t do it for something they don’t like. It’s a prestige thing.”

When Atlanta-based Cartoon Network wanted to promote its Adult Swim programming block, it decided to focus on 18-24 year olds due to budget cutbacks and the influence of the audience. This spring, the network recruited two students from 20 colleges to throw three parties with an Adult Swim theme during the remainder of the school year. “We wanted them to make the parties as authentic and non-corporate as possible,” says Greg Heanue, senior marketing director.

Students organized parties and distributed Cartoon Network premiums to build interest. “It was a great opportunity to learn about marketing by actually helping out and doing it rather than sitting in class and hearing about it,” says R. Williamson of Michigan State University.

Attendance surged at each school and by the end of the promotion one party at the University of Florida drew over 2,000 attendees. SJI, St. Louis, handled. Cartoon Network offered its on-air advertisers a sampling program at the parties as a value add-on and is repeating the tour this fall, adding 10 more schools.

“If we had gone through an agency, it would have required a lot of training and it ran the risk of just being another 9-5 assignment for people who weren’t passionate about the brand,” Heanue says. “There would have been no passion.”

But brands need to be wary of how they use students. Make student participation too obvious and you’re back to square one, according to Isaacs. “We have to be careful using the term ‘brand ambassadors.’ It’s almost becoming last year’s ‘synergy’,” he says. “[Brand ambassadors] work great when they’re appropriate but I think marketers are better off getting participation from people in a group that’s interested in your activity, rather than just a crew of hired guns.”

As part of its sponsorship of Fox Broadcasting’s talent show “American Idol,” Redmond, WA-based AT&T Wireless held a national promotion that enabled subscribers to send in their votes via text messages. On college campuses, AT&T Wireless tapped Zilo to recruit sororities to host viewing parties. AT&T also provided phones to let partygoers make their vote. “College was a key market for “American Idol” and this managed to be more legitimate than just coming across as some random sales pitch,” says AT&T Wireless spokesperson Danielle Perry.

Give them an “A” for effort.


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