Marketers Pull Out All The Stops To Engage Students

Creative ad campaigns require creativity, but retailers OfficeMax and CompUSA are taking extreme measures to impress the back-to-school crowd.

OfficeMax debuts a new season of "Schooled," a back-to-school prank show on the CW Network, on Aug. 5. The retailer recently tricked unsuspecting band students at New Jersey's New Milford High School into thinking they would lose their music program unless they came back to school and took a test.

Hidden cameras documented the students' efforts during exams and at the end, the rock band All-American Rejects gave a surprise performance. Students were given backpacks with $1,000 worth of digital cameras, MP3 players, printers and miscellaneous school supplies. Google's YouTube will host behind the scenes, and deleted videos of the prank beginning Monday.

CompUSA launched an instant-win sweepstakes tied to its back-to-school campaign that offers the chance to win $10,000, one of 10 Hewlett-Packard notebooks, more than 1,000 gift cards totaling $30,000, and discounts off store purchases. Customers either download and print a game piece at or cut it from the Sunday newspaper. They take it to a local store to have it scanned to see if they are a winner.



Mike Gatti, executive director for the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, a division of the National Retail Federation, says electronics retailers have become more creative during this back-to-school season in their efforts to grab a portion of the $18.4 billion consumers will spend. Families with school kids are expected to increase spending on electronics by 13% to $129.24, compared with 2006, according to the NRF's "2007 Consumer Intentions and Actions Back-to-School" survey, conducted by BIGresearch.

So far, notebook computers are experiencing the most significant sales bounce, and that's dragging some related categories like wireless along with, says Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD Group. "College students are using notebook computers as TVs, DVD and music players, as well as portable devices," he says. "Once we get past notebooks and graphic calculators, we're not seeing real growth, not even in cameras, cellular phones and iPods."

Even notebook sales are slowing to 20% unit growth this year, down from 60% two years ago, and Apple plans to give away an iPod with every computer to refresh sales, Baker says. Computer company Hewlett-Packard and Sony Electronics and electronics retailer Best Buy will go online with blogs, podcasts and videos to promote products and services--but these days, those are standard marketing tools.

Hewlett-Packard will invest about 70% of its back-to-school budget in web promotions, while cutting back on TV and print. The push began earlier this week with the national campaign with "Society for Parental Mind Control."

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