Company's Qwest: Reaching The Younger Demographic

A wireless and data company's desire to connect with a whole new audience of influencers (and eventual customers) has led it to sponsor a cross-platform deal that marries a concert series with an alternative rock band and one of the leading music websites.

Qwest Communications signed a deal with Yahoo!'s LAUNCH surrounding the band The Starting Line, whose Qwest-branded concerts will be held through October. But the campaign, which kicked off last week at a Minneapolis concert, extends far beyond simple branding. It includes nontraditional guerrilla-style marketing and, including a creative use of T-shirts and bar codes. And online, the campaign is built into the LAUNCH site and Yahoo! designed a special site called highway-q to help tell Qwest's story to teens.

Katarina Stansic, director of consumer marketing for the Denver-based telecom, said that the 13- to 18-year-old demographic is part of a recently-launched initiative. While the youth market is immense - they influenced about $155 billion in spending in 2002, compared to $105 billion for college students just a few years older - it's not about signing youth up as customers for wireless and data. It's about getting the 14-year-old to suggest to her parents that Qwest is the supplier of choice for broadband and wireless.

"It's absolutely critical that we increase brand awareness and brand appeal among this segment," Stansic said.

Of course, it won't hurt to let those future adults learn about the company and its offerings on their own terms, keeping Qwest top of mind a few years down the road.

"Today, they're influencing their parents but tomorrow they'll be setting up their own households and we want them to know the Qwest brand," Stansic said.

Through focus groups and other things Qwest has learned since it began to market to the demographic, there's one area of interest that bridges that gaps in gender, age and affluence. It isn't video games and it isn't even instant messaging, though both are important. The common denominator and entry point? Music.

"We know that music is very, very key to them," said Stansic.

That's where Yahoo! and, in particular, LAUNCH and Highway-Q come in, said Bob Roback, general manager of music at LAUNCH, which has been a part of Yahoo! since the end of 2001. Qwest's agency, FCBi, already had a relationship with LAUNCH and smoothed the process. With FCBi's help, key on- and offline parts of the campaign were put together. That included sponsoring the concerts, where the band just happened to be playing in Qwest's 14-state territory; a presence on the LAUNCH site and the development, with Yahoo!'s help, of a separate site that targets teens and helps them tie Qwest's message to the music. It's called Highway-Q.

"We try to put together innovative packages that bring together online with tie-ins from the same types of activities offline," said Bob Roback, general manager of music at LAUNCH. It's a technique the company has employed for other companies, including a concert series for Cingular with musician Sean Paul.

The offline component, surrounding the concerts, include some nontraditional techniques designed to snag teens and young adults. A "human coupon" promotion involves handing out free T-shirts at youth hangouts and the T-shirts - which display Qwest and Yahoo!'s names - have a bar code on them that can be scanned at the concert venue to see if the wearer has won posters, CDs, tickets or a pass to an after-concert party.

LAUNCH has drivers toward the Highway-Q site, which has sweepstakes, a Qwest-branded music video player for streaming videos and other information.

"We know the Internet is a hub for them, the computer is a hub," said Stansic. "It's a place for them to learn about our products. It's critical that we give them a fun place to come. It's all about destination. We wanted it to be human, dynamic and trustworthy."

Qwest's efforts in teen marketing don't stop at the concert series, which will end in the beginning of October. Other partnerships with Yahoo! and AOL have included a BMX promotion where top riders show their moves and sign autographs. Qwest has given away 700,000 book covers to 740 high schools in the company's wireless coverage region. And an ad in Teen People's September and October issue highlight Qwest's wireless promotions. A mailing went out to college students promoting Qwest's services as well.

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