The domestic giants have led an industry charge onto college campuses, with marketing efforts that frequently take the form of special events. The tactic fits with the carmakers' current emphasis on brand management, and should grow as brand management evolves in reach, budget and sophistication.
DODGE ROLLS WITH 'MLLE'
This week at the University of Connecticut, Chrysler Corp.'s Dodge Division kicks off its third year as a key sponsor of Mademoiselle's Life-O-Matic campus tour, created by Conde Nast Publications.
The September issue of Mademoiselle contains a 22-page insert for the tour, which Randy Herberston, Detroit ad manager for three Conde Nast books, said was the biggest insert ever for the 4-year-old tour, topping last year's 17 pages.
Dodge helps pay for the two-day stops at each campus; other sponsors include Chanel, Liz Claiborne and Andrew Jergens Co.'s new Biore skincare line.
"We want to develop brand loyalty to vehicles-if not to Chrysler-at the earliest age they are able to afford one," said Mike Perugi, communications specialist at Dodge.
Dodge also uses the Mademoiselle tour to collect data on potential buyers, another goal of campus marketing. New technologies allow the carmakers to better track students, their impressions, expected buying time and brand preferences.
Last year, the program generated data on 6,000-plus entrants in a color-a-Neon contest. Dodge sent direct mail to the students after they entered the contest on 25 campuses. Dodge Dakota is featured in this year's coloring contest.
'GET THEM EARLY'
The stakes are high for car companies to win college students' loyalty. College graduates will spend $300,000 each during their lives on vehicles, said Jeff Nichols, owner loyalty co-ordinator in Ford Division's marketing programs and strategies department. So it's important to "get them early and keep them loyal to your organization."
Many students aren't waiting till they graduate to buy cars. Full-time college students in the U.S. are buying more new vehicles than they used to, according to J.D. Power & Associates. The researcher reported this year that those students accounted for 2.27% of all industry sales in 1995, up from 2.25% in '94 and 2.19% in '93.
A new generation of college students also provides a new opportunity for car companies to make an impression. When baby boomers established their brand impressions, Japanese carmakers had "far superior quality, reliability and design," noted auto consultant Susan Jacobs, president of Jacobs & Associates.
"Now there's more parity, so there's no preconceived negative notions," she said.
Research shows that by the time people reach age 23, they know what kind of car they want to buy, said Richard Tarzian, president of Intercollegiate Communications, which runs a slew of college programs for Chrysler.
Intercollegiate helped Chrysler develop its first campus tour five years ago, with the Collegiate Health & Fitness Tour for the Jeep brand. The tour started with 25 campuses and has grown to 100 with a reach of 2.5 million students annually.
Chrysler's Eagle, Chrysler and Plymouth brands now are also part of the tour.
CBS TOUR TIED TO NETWORK BUYS
Ford started its on-campus treks in 1992 on the CBS College Tour. CBS required tour participants to either boost ad spending on the network or increase their share of the total network budget.
The CBS tour of 40 campuses remains a value-added program tied to Ford's buy on the network, Mr. Nichols said.
Ford Division is starting its fourth year with the Rolling Stone Rock-N-Roll Bowl campus tour. The carmakers 25-campus tour deal isn't part of a media buy, he said. Ford pays the magazine an undisclosed amount to participate.
Like Chrysler, Ford is tapping into the tours to gather information about prospects. For the 1997 Rolling Stone tour, the carmaker asked the magazine to survey students about their impressions of Ford vehicles.
General Motors Corp.'s Chev-rolet will use on-campus movies to reach college students. Chevy will take over Geo's 4-year-old campus theater movie-preview program this fall when the Geo name is discontinued. An ad for Chevy will run before the movie opens, and the Chevy bow-tie logo will appear on the screen before the movie starts. The tour has expanded to 100 campuses.
"We did some research on campus about the program, and it's definitely creating awareness," said Ray Anrecio, assistant brand manager-marketing for Chevrolet's Tracker, formerly a Geo.
Chevy also will replace Geo this fall on the 100-campus tour organized by Time Inc.'s Sports Illustrated. Chevy collects information about students on both tours, and uses it for direct mailings.
The carmakers started reaching out to college students in the 1980s with programs at spring-break hot spots, Intercollegiate's Mr. Tarzian said. Chrysler was one of the first car companies to try a grass-roots college push, with the launch of the Plymouth Laser in 1987.
Chrysler, which still does spring-break programs, now prefers campus tours because local dealers can get involved.
After three years, Chevy stopped its spring-break programs for Geo in 1995 because students "don't like to be inundated with corporate marketing while they're on vacation," Mr. Anrecio said.
CASH INCENTIVES OFFERED
Also in the 1980s, Ford started a cash-incentive buying program for college graduates, followed the next year by GM and later Chrysler. The carmakers advertise the programs in college newspapers, on campus kiosks, via direct mail and on the Web.
Today, with carmakers getting more interested in going to school, colleges are starting to get pickier about allowing marketers on their property, Mr. Anrecio said.