Web Ads 101: Company Pays College Students To Watch Ads
BrandPort is counting on it. So far, the newly launched Danville, Va.-based firm has lured a few thousand students from more than 60 campuses across the country to get paid to watch ads via the Internet. To attract registrants, the company is placing ads in local papers, hiring students to spread the word about the commercial-watching opportunity, and marketing nationally through email.
"We just sent out our first payment to the students," says Kivin Varghese, founder and CEO of BrandPort. "To students, there's nothing better than cash in the bank." Viewers are paid via PayPal between $0.25 and $0.50 for each ad, depending on the length and format. Choosing the college kid demo as the company's initial target made sense to Varghese. Besides being a slippery bunch, they're at the stage during which brand loyalties are formed. And since they congregate on and around campus, college students also are "relatively easy to find." Plus, he notes: "They all have broadband, so streaming TV ads isn't an issue."
The concept is simple. Students with valid .edu email addresses sign up to view TV, radio, print, and Web ads on BrandPort's site. To ensure that advertisers get their money's worth, audience members are asked five follow- up questions immediately after viewing the ad--three are about the ad content, and two involve purchase intent and ad likeability. The pay-for-performance model means that advertisers pay based on the number of students who have answered the three content-related inquiries correctly. There's also a direct response component that enables viewers to click-through for more information or purchase incentives.
A BrandPort campaign for Beck's Beer that is currently running asks quiz-takers to complete the brand's tagline: "____beckons and you're holding the key," with the appropriate word, "life." The service's ability to target not only by geography and gender, but also by age, is especially important for advertisers such as Beck's. Student travel company SpringBreakTravel.com has also signed on to run ads on BrandPort's site, as have local advertisers near North Carolina State University, Sylvia's Pizza and Ric's.
"This is a harbinger of convergence," believes Nick Nyhan, president of cross-media research firm Dynamic Logic. Nyhan instantly recognized the ad- testing-related capabilities of the BrandPort service.
The notion of rewarding people for viewing ads is not new. Research firms like Ipsos-ASI and DiscoverWhy.com measure audience response to evaluate things like product perception and ad creative for advertiser clients. And RewardTV registrants go online to answer questions regarding program plots and commercials after viewing shows on TV like Scrubs and Malcolm in the Middle. In exchange, they receive gift cards and other goodies from advertisers including Burger King, JCPenney, and Shell.
Although BrandPort does offer research services such as ad copy testing, Varghese insists that the firm's core competency is targeted marketing, not research.
To achieve a positive brand impact, it's important that students won't equate ad-watching with work, and therefore think less of brands that market through BrandPort. So far, Varghese hasn't heard advertisers express concern about this. "In fact," he asserts, "college students are saying that they respect the advertisers that try to reach them this way, not only because they're putting those much-needed dollars in their pockets, but because the advertisers are being straightforward with them."