Campaign's Not Short on Big Words

Big Words Inc., an online college bookseller that has added content and expanded its product line, launched a promotional campaign this week that stays true to the company name.

“We originally called the site Big Words as symbolic of college students starting to use big words,” said Dick Hackenberg, vice president of consumer marketing at Big Words, San Francisco. “For this campaign, we thought maybe there was a way to use lifestyle situations in commercials and end them with big words.”

In a lighthearted way, the campaign takes into account that the number of words in a young American's written vocabulary has decreased more than 50 percent since 1945, according to Harper's Index.

The campaign uses polysyllabic words in instructional contexts. For example, one commercial finds a young man in the kitchen doing dishes. He talks, sits at a table and drops into frame, saying, “I never thought there was a difference between conditioner and leave-in conditioner. I thought it was just cosmetic industry perfidiousness. But you know, the leave-in conditioner really works better. My hair has always been shiny, but now it's practically luminescent.” The commercial then cuts to a “Use Big Words” phrase and the company logo.

These vignettes comment on lifestyles while reinforcing the Big Words brand. “We're challenging our viewer to understand what we say and think about using Big Words,” Hackenberg said.

The ads are running nationally on the NBC network along with individual stations in major cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas and Washington. Print versions are running in newspapers of the top 150 colleges.

More than 4,000 students are visiting 300 campuses as part of the campaign through September. Dressed in orange jumpsuits featuring the Big Words logo, they give out T-shirts at student events with a big word on the front and a smaller logo on the back. Campus reps engage students by tossing them bouncing balls featuring big words and by giving them scratch-off cards to win discounts on books and other prizes.

Event sponsorships are also used, where money is given to student organizations in exchange for their members putting on Big Words orange jumpsuits and promoting the service.

The site,, includes a viral tell-a-friend program, which gives students a credit on their accounts when people they refer make purchases. Other offers include free shipping with a textbook and gear purchase and 15 percent off purchases more than $100. Big words are part of the site's content, reinforcing the overall message.

In conjunction with the fall promotion, students can get the “big word” from former editors and publishers at a content portion of the site, dubbed “content for the discontent.” The team includes David Keeps, a former Details editor; Suzanne Colon, former editor at large for Jane magazine; and Rob Houghtlin, who ran the Detroit office of ESPN The Magazine. Content includes sections on sex, life and culture, with topics such as worst date scenarios, college football previews, the controversial music file-sharing program Napster and CD reviews.

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