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Direct Response Marketing

Onondaga Community College, Unfiltered

11 Jul, 2010 By: Jacqueline Renfrow Response

Re-branding the school’s image through direct response.


A blind billboard ad started around the same time as the television teasers, and all they advertised was the URL Two weeks later, the OCC tags were unveiled on the boards. The reveal for television came in the form of a 30-second follow-up spot letting the audience know that this was an ad for OCC. Although the blind aspect of the campaign lasted only a few weeks, the entire campaign went on for about a month throughout the Syracuse-metro area.

“Everything we bought online, whether it was local online advertising or on Facebook, was geo-targeted for students,” Hugo says. Banner ads flashed across online social networks and local high-traffic sites such as

Facebook turned out to be a very successful channel for Onondaga’s Rethink College campaign. The online social network was used in two ways — first, as an existing page on the college site, which many students use frequently to look for calendar postings, sports team results, etc. The campus community was already active on this page as a means for getting messages out to current students.

“As much as we were trying to get prospective students, 16- and 17-year-olds making a decision or thinking about college, we also wanted to make it a rallying message for those current students already on campus,” Hugo says. “We wanted them to be able to say, yeah, I made the right decision and I’m proud that I did.”

The second piece of the Facebook channel was paid advertising on the social community’s site, since the age group that OCC was trying to reach was on Facebook several times of day, producing heavy traffic. The ad was one of the small tiles shown on the right side of the page. The ads were simple in that they said something like “follow Sarah” and a consumer could click on the ad and learn more about Sarah’s college experience. “I’m happy to say it was one of our primary drivers to the microsite,” Hugo says. In total, Facebook ads drove 8,200 visitors to the URL.

Another non-traditional channel used in the campaign was mobile texting. Promotions were offered through 15-second television ads highlighting a trivia contest and giveaway. The ad asked questions about community colleges, and if a consumer knew the answer, he or she could text the answer to a specified phone number and win an OCC t-shirt. The TV ads to text and win aired during programming geared toward the target audience such as Vampire Diaries, Glee and 90210. In the end, the promotion resulted in 250 responses and the collection of cell phone numbers for mobile marketing programs.

DR and Brand — Hand in Hand

What does the future hold for branding? First, Hugo says the marketing team will continue to test messages within the target age group, since those of traditional college age are inundated with advertisements daily and must be researched extensively. Since the beginning, Hugo’s team has done focus groups to test different channels and will continue to try to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to innovative media for marketing the school.

Hugo is a firm believer that in 2010 branding and DR go hand in hand. “I think that the line is blurred and one leads into another — they are intertwined,” he says. “There are so many tools now, and more and more marketing channels are becoming outlets for direct response. And there are more one-to-one communication options. There are so many more options, you’re always just thinning the spectrum down.”

Hugo goes on to say that the opinions and perceptions of the brand are often formulated through direct response marketing. “It’s branding that elicits a response,” he adds.

And with the open conversation that direct response and so many modern media channels have created, Hugo reminds us that marketers have to take the good with the bad — the praises for a product or service along with the criticism. “If something happens in the community, you’ve got to deal with it. In this situation, we have pushed the college to get onboard and to address the stigma head on,” Hugo says. “We had to allow the students to say some of the things that a few years ago you would’ve never wanted them to say in ads.”

The gritty, unfiltered look at Onondaga would’ve been kept hidden several years ago. But Hugo’s team believes using the students’ point of view made the campaign more credible to the audience. The challenge of the campaign was introducing such a different kind of approach to the community college. But OCC was as adventurous as the marketing firm and ready to do something out of the ordinary. And Hugo expects that innovation to continue and evolve for the next campaign for OCC in fall 2010.

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