VarsityBooks Woos College Market with a High-Profile Ad Campaign
Fisher, Eric, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
District-based VarsityBooks.com, an Internet-only retailer of college textbooks, has begun a national advertising campaign that will appear in places such as Microsoft's Sidewalk Internet site and "Loveline," a popular youth-oriented talk show on MTV.
The campaign is part of an effort by Varsity to increase its profile beyond its East Coast roots. The company now offers book lists for 58 schools, with only a handful west of the Mississippi River, though it also sells popular titles used by hundreds of other institutions. The campaign is not aimed against mainstream on-line competitors, such as amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.
"Those guys are really about the mass market. We feel like we have a special niche, and now that we have a proven [business] model, we want to get the word out," said Eric Kuhn, Varsity's chief executive officer. "This program will have a real thrust on our product."
Most of Varsity's buys will concentrate on campus newspapers and radio stations, rather than the mainstream press. The company also plans substantial amounts of direct marketing and campus events, with student leaders taking part in the planning.
At Georgetown University, the company plans to send staffers dressed in gorilla outfits door-to-door in residence halls.
"It's our version of guerrilla marketing," Mr. Kuhn said. "It's very critical that this have a real grass-roots element."
Company officials said the open-ended campaign will cost roughly several million dollars.
Varsity also will announce today a partnership with Microsoft Corp.'s Sidewalk Web site, targeting the Washington area. The Web site, an on-line directory of shops, services and entertainment options, will include a link to Varsity. The two companies will also co-sponsor events at schools, including George Mason University and the University of Maryland, and Sidewalk users will receive e-mails that feature Varsity.
Varsity's agency of record for the effort is New York-based K2 Design.
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