A veritable who's who of brand marketers is tapping into the expanding market of college students with the intent of setting up lifelong relationships.
Sampling is emerging as their key promotional tool to build brand awareness and create loyalty among college students as they embark on their lives as independent shoppers, apart from mom and dad.
Among those brands to be found in sampling packages offered to college students free or at a special low price are such household names as Contac, Woolite, Tums, Jell-O, Kool-Aid, Edge, Cheer, Kotex, Bic, Robitussin, Vidal Sassoon, Tylenol, Right Guard, Binaca and so on. "If it can be eaten or used, there is no question that sampling is the most effective, franchise-maintaining, share-of-market-expanding medium," says Joseph Venaglia, president of College Market Consultants, West New York, N.J. "For a brand to break into a category or gain any market share, it must earn the trust of the student consumer. Sampling is the most multisensory impact medium that best accomplishes this impact." As he defines it, the 17- to 24-year-old college-age market currently numbers 15 million, a figure he expects will swell to 19 million by the year 2001. This market's disposable income has been estimated at $65 million to $95 million, Venaglia says.
Adds Eric Weill, president of Strategic Marketing Communications, Ridgewood, N.J., "Too often people think of the college student market as monolithic. They fail to realize there are significant segments of students with different lifestyles." Weill's company publishes Collegiate Trends and other publications that track the college market and promotional activities targeted to students.
Four-year, full-time students are often considered the prize targets, but two-year college students who work during the day may actually have more disposable income, Weill says.
Many people assume that most college students live in dorms, but actually less than 40% do, he adds.
David Marcou, group director of marketing at MarketSource Corp., Cranbury, N.J., says research his company commissioned showed that for just about every packaged good product, more than 25% of students, and often more than 50%, will change brands while in college. "The time to get consumers to change brands is when they are young and in college. If you can get them in college, you essentially have captured a customer for life," Marcou says.
S.C. Johnson Wax, Racine, Wis., has been participating in sampling programs to college students with its Edge and Skintimate shaving cream brands for a number of years and is pleased with the results. "College students are part of our target market. They are a bit more difficult to reach. A lot depends on what you are marketing to them. Sampling works really well for us," a company official says.
College students are hard to reach through traditional mass media because they typically watch less TV, listen to less radio and read fewer newspapers than the population as a whole, Marcou of MarketSource says.
According to a national study of college students by the Washington Center for Internships & Academic Seminars cited in the February issue of Collegiate Trends, 62% of college students are employed during the school year and 40% work more than 12 hours weekly.
S.C. Johnson was identified as a client by both MarketSource, for its Campus Trial Pak sampling program, and FX Direct, Knoxville, Tenn., for its Good Stuff sampling program. FX Direct is a subsidiary of Voice FX Corp., Conshohocken, Pa.
The Good Stuff program consists of decorative boxes of samples and offers, distributed directly to college dorms and available in male and female versions, according to Matthew Bramson, director of sponsorship development at Voice FX and director of marketing for FX Direct.
"College sampling in general reaches a vulnerable market. This is often the student's first experience making purchasing decisions about what brands to buy," he says.
First-year students comprise about 70% of the dorm population, and often they are out on their own for the first time, Bramson says.
About 1.4 million Good Stuff packages are distributed in September to about 590 colleges and universities.
A sample box for female students contained Always sanitary pads, Kotex tampons, Caress body wash, Bic pastel shavers, pHisoderm skin cleanser, Soft & Dri deodorant, Cheer laundry detergent, Tylenol Flu gelcaps, Robitussin cough drops, Vidal Sassoon hair care products, Aleve pain reliever, Colgate toothpaste, L'Oreal hair gel and Charlie White fragrance, all in trial or sample sizes to fit in a shoebox-size package.
The male version included a bottle of Fruitopia, Edge shaving gel, Aqua Velva after shave, Right Guard deodorant, Bic twin select shavers, Cheer laundry detergent, Robitussin cough drops, Tylenol Flu gelcaps and Aleve. MarketSource offers male and female versions of its Campus Trial Pak, distributed free through 1,000 college stores to 2.5 million students every fall. Production and distribution are also audited by independent research firms. MarketSource claims that its Campus Trial Pak increases awareness 92%, increases usage 123% and results in a 94% purchase intent.
Adcamp Associates, New York, takes a different approach to sampling. It purchases regular revenue products from manufacturers of food products and HBC and packs them into a sport bag, which is offered as a promotional package for sale to students in college bookstores, according to Neal Twersky, president.
Twersky says, "Manufacturers should focus on incremental sales to the college market. Students will buy these items in the same place they buy books or clothing if manufacturers stop treating college stores as stepchildren."
Pepsi, Lipton Tea, Clearly Canadian, Hawaiian Tropic sun tan products, Sprint long-distance telephone service and Discover Card credit card are among the brand names featured at events created for college students by Intercollegiate Communications, Leonia, N.J., according to Richard Tarzian, president.
A corporate sponsor tent is set up adjacent to each event, offering samples or giveaways to the students.
ICC also stages a spring break event in locations traditionally visited by college students during that period, such as Daytona Beach and Panama City, Fla., and South Padre Island, Texas, Tarzian says.
Companies and brands such as General Motors Chevy/Geo division, Pepsi, Lipton, Clearly Canadian and Hawaiian Tropic sponsor beach volleyball tournaments and other spring break activities and entertainment.
"These companies are going down there for brand loyalty, identity and awareness. There are no selling opportunities on any of these programs, strictly samples and giveaways," Tarzian says.
Campus Concepts, Baltimore, is said to have helped Butterfinger increase its candy bar sales 6% with a program that reached 3 million college students last fall, according to a published account in the February 1996 issue of Collegiate Trends.
The company partnered with the National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association to offer college students the chance to compete in the largest flag football competition ever held, which culminated in network television coverage at the Sugar Bowl, the newsletter reported.
MarketSource's Sports Illustrated Campus Fest visits 25 colleges, and its Spring Break Beach Club event is held at Daytona Beach. The two events combined reach a million students.