Marketers Plant Flags - Go and sell it on the mountain: Everest

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If you place a sign 17,000 feet high on Mount Everest and hardly anyone sees it, is it still smart marketing? It is if the world's press is reporting on the 50th anniversary of the first ascent by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.

Last week, the world's most famous mountain was in the spotlight as adventurers and marketers gathered to celebrate the May 29 anniversary of one of man's oft-romanticized triumphs over nature. But the two groups are wary in each other's company. In a press conference last week, Sir Edmund Hillary, himself a spokesman for Toyota, criticized over-commercialization of the mountain, asking the Nepalese government to "give the mountain a rest."

Climbing teams have their pick of sponsors from the Outdoor Life Network to Atlas tires to Chinese Web site On their ascent climbers can stop off at the Yahoo! Internet cafe and e-mail pictures of their logo-laden selves. Even Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide has planted its flag on the summit, thanks to FCBi Senior VP-Creative Director Robert Anderson who made the climb last week.

But some are worried Mount Everest has already become a tourist trap. Hal Espen, editor of Mariah Media's Outside magazine, said that increased marketing has "helped create a sense that Everest is just another sporting event."

ubiquitous presence

The sign at 17,000 feet belongs to Yahoo! U.K. & Ireland, sponsoring the Internet cafe at base camp. "The cafe was the brainchild of Tsering Gyaltzen Sherpa [whose grandfather made the original ascent with Sir Edmund]. We thought it would work because we want to say Yahoo! Mail is everywhere," said Yonca Dervisoglu, U.K. marketing director.

Yahoo! is sensitive about appearing to commercialize the event. Part of the sponsorship, which has garnered huge press coverage, involves a donation to the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee, which clears Everest of trash left behind by climbers. That donation, though, also has a marketing angle: It ties into one of Yahoo!'s key campaigns against junk e-mail on the Web.

The cafe, though only a temporary tent with a couple of computers inside, is itself the focus of much marketing attention. Both Starbucks and Colombian Coffee were reported to have looked at becoming coffee providers. Colombian Coffee did not respond to calls, and Starbucks Coffee Co. said the company had "no plans" for a store in Katmandu, Nepal's capital.

Chinese success

George Martin, general manager of the Tennessee-based, is in constant contact with climbers at the mountain and said: "The biggest marketing success has come from the Chinese with a mobile-phone service."

Indeed China Mobile, the country's largest mobile operator, partnered with Motorola to make SMS and multimedia messaging on Everest possible. They're backing Chinese Internet service, which is sponsoring an expedition. The team is reporting on their travels with video and using high-speed cellphones.

They're not the only ones piggybacking on the anniversary. National Geographic Channel is airing "Mission Everest," a real-time adventure series, while Outdoor Life Network has its own program, "Global Extremes: Mt.Everest-4Runners of Adventure." The show is sponsored by both Toyota Motor Corp. and Yahoo!

Even before anniversary celebrations got going, Toyota began a campaign featuring Sir Edmund. The spots for the 4Runner were filmed on Everest, according to Deborah Meyer, corporate manager-marketing communications for Toyota Motor Sales USA. Ms. Meyer reports that sales of 4Runner in April 2003 were up 40% from April 2002. "We started out positioning the 4Runner as king of the mountain and the biggest mountain we could think of was Everest." (See the spots at QwikFIND aano69v)

Even though Mr. Espen is cautious about the encroaching marketing, he acknowledges the power of the mountain. Outside's best-selling edition came in 1996 with a piece by author Jon Krakauer who wrote about a fatal attempt to reach the summit. Still, his gut tells him, "Everest is much over-hyped and over-marketed."

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