The weeks between mid-August and mid-September, when droves of media-hungry and tech-savvy students flood college campuses, can be an acquisition bonanza for cable operators. Yet Cablevision, Cox and Time Warner Cable say their corporate marketing departments aren’t planning noteworthy campaigns. Adelphia isn’t either; instead it will update last year’s cross-channel spots. For competitive reasons, Insight wanted to keep an element of surprise about its back-to-school campaign and declined to discuss details. On the other hand, some MSOs are using clever strategies to target students. Here’s a sample: Comcast Tallahassee
Tallahassee, Fla.
Students in area: 50,000-60,000
Comcast isn’t waiting for students to descend on 3 Tallahassee schools. The system’s e-commerce analyst, Jerilyn Beckley, designed a website where students can sign up for cable before they even alight on campus. Comcast sent the URL to registered students via some 12,000 direct mail pieces. "The objective was to make it really easy for students," says Comcast general manager K.C. McWilliams. Three teams of "foot soldiers" are helping to spread the word as well. These focus-group-approved Buzz Squads are dispatched to the bookstores and bars around and on the campuses of Florida A&M, Florida State and Tallahassee Community College, to hand out posters and premiums while wearing eye-catching T-shirts—this year’s tag line is "Un-Freakin-Believable!". In some dorms cable is activated just before students arrive. After several weeks, it will be turned off if students don’t call to confirm they want the service, but not before one last sweep by a door-to-door sales team. Comcast Boston
Students in area: 250,000
Comcast dubs mid-August through mid-September "Fall Rush." The system shies away from advertising on mainstream media, instead relying on local alternative papers, radio and street teams who literally roll around greater Boston on Segway scooters, marketing operations manager Corey Penn says. The system also hired a plane to fly over Boston’s tony Back Bay area with a banner that says "Need Cable? Call Comcast." Sponsored events are also popular, such as the "extreme dodgeball" game that Comcast and GSN hosted last year. Since connection activity during Fall Rush is five times that of any other month, there’s a focus on operational execution. At Northeastern, Babson and Bentley, teams of salespeople and techs camp out for a few days, enabling students to sign up for service and have a tech accompany them back to their rooms for immediate installs. Sunflower Broadband
Lawrence, Kan.
Students in area: 29,000
Sunflower Broadband spends far less than deep-pocketed Comcast, but its back-to-school marketing is buzz-worthy. Its double-entendre T-shirts have become somewhat of a cult hit; "Get It When You Want It" is the message on this year’s VOD-focused T’s. In previous years the messages were "Get It Three Ways," promoting digital phone, and "Get Hooked Up," promoting video service. The T-shirts are a hot item, but the system’s mascot, Broadband Man, has become a mini-celebrity. In addition to spreading the word about high-speed data, Broadband Man gets requests for appearances, such as reading to kids at summer programs. The system always puts an ad and a coupon in the last issue of the year of the University of Kansas’ popular school paper. Marketing manager Stephanie McCoil is impressed with the number of students who clip the coupons and bring them back in the fall. The coupons reappear at the start of the school year. This year’s coupon hypes Sunflower’s phone service, but other coupons promote an introductory 50% off its most popular package, which includes broadband basic, high-speed data service and phone, plus one free month of HBO and Cinemax. For students who don’t see the coupons, Sunflower blankets the dorms with direct sales reps who set up tables so students can sign up for services.

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