Columbia Treks New Terrain With Online Sweeps

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Columbia Sportswear Co. has begun its first online sweepstakes to promote its GRT line of trekking, training and travel apparel and accessories.


The sweepstakes, at www.columbia.com, is in collaboration with the Eco-Challenge, dubbed as the world's ultimate adventure race across rugged terrain, challenging water bodies and intimidating mountains.


"Our constant challenge is to generate awareness for the brand and, in this particular instance, we targeted GRT, which is a sportswear category that is doing quite well for us, and we want to stimulate sales into the retailer and beyond," said Dan Hanson, Columbia's marketing communications director.


The Portland, OR, company will support the online sweepstakes with an offline equivalent at 300 selected retail stores nationwide that stock Columbia products such as T-shirts, shirts, pants, shorts, jackets and footwear.


Prices vary from $20 for performance T-shirts to $130 for jackets.


Visitors to the columbia.com home page click on the "GRT Eco-Challenge Adventure Travel Sweepstakes" tab. They enter name, address, birth date, telephone and e-mail information to register through April 15.


Six grand-prize winners get a 10-day adventure travel trip throughout British Columbia and a package of GRT products. Each trip has a $3,500 value. Another 20 first prizes of GRT products, worth $270, will be given away. The grand-prize winners will travel the 1996 racecourse through the same wilds of British Columbia that attracted Eco-Challenge participants that year.


Last year's Eco-Challenge took place in Malaysia on the island of Borneo and is slated for U.S. broadcast next month on the USA Network.


Columbia has been the official apparel supplier to the Eco-Challenge since 1997. It provides headwear and apparel from the GRT collection to event officials, media, competitors and important personalities.


The sweepstakes accompanies a mid-month revamp of columbia.com. The new site boasts a wider selection of merchandise. It showcases more than 120 items from the 63-year-old company's spring 2001 line. Consumers also can check the latest stock price, read about the company history and search or link to a retailer stocking Columbia merchandise.


Hanson admits the company has done little Internet marketing.


"The big challenge for us has been the new site architecture, the database-driven product selection on a section of the site," he said. "All of our efforts have been to get our new site up and working."


Only last year did Columbia start tagging all print, TV and outdoor ads, plus all in-store and corporate collateral, with the Web address.


"We'll be experimenting with direct mail to retailers, and we'll be considering that in conjunction with product launches for this spring '02 selling season, which for us begins in June," Hanson said. "We'll be looking in the month of April and May at our full '01 advertising plans, and in addition to conventional print, television and out-of-home we'll be looking at online advertising."


The $615 million company most likely will advertise on the Web sites of publications it now uses, such as Outside magazine, Rolling Stone, Maxim and Playboy.


Borders Perrin Norrander, Portland, OR, handles the Columbia account.


Though the sweepstakes is one of its first online marketing initiatives, Columbia will need more time to commit to the Internet. Take its approach to using an online database of consumers, for instance.


"We don't intend to use immediately all of the names that we gather," Hanson said. "As a wholesale manufacturer, we don't do a lot of direct marketing to consumers. We let our retailers know first and foremost the efforts that we're putting forward to help generate traffic and sales for them."


Maintaining a consumer database and then remarketing to it was not the main intent for Columbia. While e-mail marketing is a possibility in the future, the sweepstakes was driven by a more basic reason, Hanson said.


"It's just to generate enthusiasm for the GRT line and for the brand," he said, "and to generate awareness for the Web site, and that's quite simply it."


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