The slow economy over the last year or so has led many consumers to reassess their purchasing behavior. But college students aren't among them.
Students say their current and planned purchases remain strong, with no reported changes in shopping, entertainment, apparel and travel plans, according to Student Monitor's Fall 2001 Lifestyle & Media Report. Their Internet spending alone amounted to a record $1.4 billion last year, a $300 million increase from 2000, according to Student Monitor, Ridgewood, N.J., a college market research firm.
Students are able to pay for purchases in several ways. The average student has $4,740 in annual personal earnings and about $163 a month in discretionary spending. Fifty-eight percent get money from home, amounting to $261 monthly. And 65% have access to a general-purpose credit card.
Figures like these make the college market attractive to consumer packaged goods manufacturers, who are reaching out to students where they live and play.
For many companies, spring break is the perfect place to do it. Last month, Dr Pepper/Seven Up, Plano, Texas, operated the 30,000-square-foot Dr Pepper Cabana Cafe in Panama City Beach, Fla., the No. 1 spring break destination. The cafe included a 3,000-square-foot deck, 500-foot boardwalk, nonalcoholic refreshment bar, Internet stations, cable TV, free long-distance calls, hot tub pavilion, live entertainment, free food, and, of course, free Dr Pepper.
"The Dr Pepper Cabana Cafe is a high-tech, low-pressure, beach hangout for college students to experience the relaxing time of spring break, as well as enjoy friends and the great taste of ice-cold Dr Pepper," said Cindi Clark, Dr Pepper's senior vice president, marketing.
Many companies target college students through buzz marketing, or what some call "viral marketing." Marketing by either name seeks to create a "buzz" on campus, getting students talking to their peers, friends, neighbors and families about a particular product.
The difference between the two tactics is apparent more in the approach they take to creating that word-of-mouth wave. Buzz marketing is doing something so innovative that it is likely to be talked about.
Viral marketing means that something in its nature wants to be transmitted from one individual to the next, said Griffin Davis, vice president, marketing, CollegeClub.com. College Club is a Web-based division of Student Advantage, Boston, a college marketing and retailing firm. Student Advantage is a subsidiary of Alloy. Viral campaigns work well on the Internet because it's easy to transmit messages via e-mail and instant messaging, Davis said.
Regardless of which method is used, the goal is usually the same: word-of-mouth marketing. In fact, word of mouth is the No. 1 way (69%) students learn about products and services, according to Student Monitor. Rounding out the Top 5 list is television advertising, in-store samples, radio advertising and samples in the mail.
Students regularly purchase a broad range of packaged goods and demonstrate high levels of brand loyalty. The Top 5 products they buy are deodorant, toothpaste, soft drinks, shampoo and fruit drinks. The top brands in these categories are Secret, Crest, Coca-Cola, Suave and Tropicana, respectively.
Most students (56%) buy such products in a supermarket/grocery store. Other retail channels in the Top 5 are off-campus convenience stores (39%), discount department stores (38%), drug stores (33%) and college bookstores (33%).
Spring break is a good time to roll out new products and generate buzz for products because of the concentrated groups of students in one location.
"The commercial activity that goes on at spring break is carried back to individual campuses," said Jim Omastiak, vice president, Euro RSCG Impact, Chicago. "You're able to extend your influence by impressing your brand message on that particular segment at the experience."
Student Advantage launched a spring break promotional event this year called Road Trip. The event, which ran March 2 to 22 in Panama City Beach, had four product sponsors: AT&T, Pontiac, Coca-Cola and Frito-Lay.
Road Trip officials offered vacationing students samples, games, branded premiums and even shuttle rides. Samples and premiums were handed out during the day when they were most useful, while shuttle services and logos were pushed at night. Road Trip officials even took students' pictures and posted them online at CollegeClub.com.
Frito-Lay ran a sampling program and a spin-to-win component that offered branded premiums to kids based around Extreme Doritos.
Coca-Cola structured its Road Trip games and promotions around the Mad River beverage. Taste testing, sampling and premiums were included.
"We're trying to attack not only through the sensory, but also through the taste buds," said Pete Diffendal, vice president of events and promotion for the SA Marketing Group at Student Advantage.
This is the second year that Dr Pepper has operated the Cabana Cafe. What's unique about the cabana is that it not only offers samples, but also enlists the support of vacationing college students to help preserve the beaches of Panama City Beach by planting several thousand sea oats.
"We want to encourage the students visiting the fully functional oasis to take time out of their vacation schedules and give something back to the community," said Clark of Dr Pepper.
Spring break isn't the only way to create a buzz with the college crowd. On-campus programs can also be effective.
Procter & Gamble Co., Cincinnati, for instance, ran a campaign with Student Advantage for its Downy fabric softener. Called Wrinkle Free Laundry Week, the program was part of SA's campus manager program. Campus managers and laundry room attendants provided product samples and coupons of Downy Wrinkle-Free Release to students, paid for students' laundry, and answered students' laundry questions for the duration of the week.
"The reason people want to go after the college market is because you touch consumers who are still developing brand loyalty, still developing taste skills," said Diffendal. Unilever has taken several different approaches to the college market for its Lipton Brisk brand. Among its efforts was a partnership with CollegeClub.com involving sweepstakes, ads and interactive games.
Lipton has also marketed to students offline through the Burly Bear Network, a college-focused cable station available on 600 campuses across the country. Lipton Brisk was the sponsor of the network's most popular show, "Half Baked," a rock 'n' roll cooking show.