Bigwords Has a Ball With Campaign

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Most college students hate the endless lines, packed aisles and mad scrambles they endure each semester to pick up their allotment of textbooks; and one online marketer is taking the fight for those students' dollars straight to campus.


Bigwords.com is in the middle of a promotion with smoothies pusher Jamba Juice to draw students to its virtual store for their books. As more industry watchers talk about how online marketers need to promote themselves in places other than consumers' computer screens, Bigwords' results make a real-life argument for taking online brands beyond the PC.


"The good thing, from a direct marketing standpoint, is we know where to find college students," said Martin McClanan, the firm's vice president of product marketing and business development. "The beauty of these offline promotions is that since we know where students are, it's really easy to target and work with them on a very visceral level."


Among its promotion tactics, the San Francisco company bought 15 tons of orange super balls - the tiny rubber balls renowned for their bounciness - and chucked 10,000 of them off a cherry picker onto the varsity tennis court at the University of California at Berkeley while students battled to find the five blue balls that would reward a free semester's worth of textbooks.


On the less extravagant side, students who register with Bigwords receive a free Jamba Juice mug when they visit a Jamba Juice store. In turn, the juice, soup and snack company placed clear cylinders in its stores that hold rubber balls and coupons offering 5 percent off textbook purchases made at Bigwords' site.


The privately held company doesn't release revenue figures, but McClanan said the 40 campuses taking part in the Jamba promotion have generated between 2 1/2 and 3 times the sales that Bigwords normally projects based on the amount of media it is buying. Jamba Juice, San Francisco, is seeing similar sales increases, he said.


Bigwords is a little more than year old, but its on-campus promotions work, led by the staff of its Orange Jumpsuit Brigade, apparently has served it well so far. The online marketer's revenue has mushroomed by a factor of 10 each semester from the fall of 1998 through the spring and fall of 1999, McClanan said. The company has more than 1 million book titles in its database, and it runs its own distribution center.


"From a traditional cataloger standpoint, it's pretty challenging; but we feel that we've really gotten ahead of it," said McClanan, who was director of direct marketing at Nestlé USA and founder of a business-to-business food catalog before joining Bigwords.


The Jamba Juice promotion runs through Oct. 17. McClanan would not be specific on the campaign's budget but said it is "hundreds of thousands of dollars."
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