Pier 1 Ferries Web Visitors to Stores for Back-to-School Effort

Home furnishings specialty retailer Pier 1 Imports Inc. is running its back-to-school promotion online for the second consecutive year to drive foot traffic into stores nationwide.

The Design U campaign runs through Sept. 26, supported by search engine marketing, rich media ads, a quiz and a sweepstakes. The effort targets mainly college students but also parents and high school students.

“Our goal was to use online media to brand Pier 1 and send people into the stores rather than [them] buying online,” said Misty Locke, president of Pier 1 interactive agency Range Online Media, Fort Worth, TX.

The agency has bought undisclosed keywords on Overture and Google. It has placed Flash and rich media ads on sites such as ABC, Rentnet.com, eUniverse, College Club, Tickle.com and Y2M. An online quiz through Tickle and an interactive game with ePrize complement the effort.

“We agreed early on that we wanted to try techniques new to Pier 1's current advertising efforts and truly interact with our 18- to 25-year-old demographics through methods they wanted,” Locke said. “All efforts are placed and ask the user to interact with Pier 1. This is not a forced or tricked involvement. Those who play, click or register want to be there.”

The keywords, ads, game, quiz and a home page tab direct users to a Design U college page on www.pier1.com/designu. All tactics bear the same look and feel.

In addition to Range-planned ads, Pier 1 will drop e-mails twice to names in its database this month. E-mails also will go to those who respond and register as a result of the campaign.

Pier 1 debuted its in-store back-to-school effort July 23. Range's online media push began July 26. Results are still coming in, though Locke claims the campaign “exceeded all of our projected goals by more than two times for the opening weekend. Also, our daily visitors have more than doubled from last year.”

Whether it is the consumer's first dorm, first apartment or simply time for a new look this fall, Pier 1 offers a 15 percent discount on director's chairs, unique iron and bamboo storage bins as well as hampers, pillows and lamps.

“This is an in-store-only promotion valid with a student ID,” Locke said. “Our goal is to drive offline sales utilizing online media. The strategy is locating the student audience in the space where they are spending the most time. So we want to speak with them online, but drive them to the physical stores.”

This year's campaign is Range's second for Pier 1. Last year it used sweepstakes to acquire e-mail addresses for future marketing efforts and a microsite on Alloy.com. It employed a “What Is Your Room Style?” promotion on Emode.com and drove foot traffic with the 15 percent student discount.

Last year's results were encouraging. The effort generated 74,138 sweepstakes registrants. More than 311,000 people completed tests on Emode, with the target spending an average of 10 to 15 minutes with the Pier 1 brand. More than 53,000 e-mail addresses were acquired. And the revenue-to-spend return was 129-to-1, up from 30-to-1 in 2002.

“On this [year's] particular campaign, we were able to create a more cohesive college branded campaign,” Locke said. “We also opted to make this year more interactive. Our improvements this year were based largely on improved creative from Pier 1, the type of ad units utilized and the placement of those ads. I would also say that working with ePrize has also been a tremendous success.”

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