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Frosh Carnival brings marketing to university masses Add to ...

This fall, when new students at more than a dozen campuses across Ontario threw themselves into frosh-week festivities, their higher education included a lesson in brands.

Phil Hart, a Toronto entrepreneur who’s provided novelty items to parties and events for almost 20 years, launched Frosh Carnival, a miniature fun fair that he calls a trade show, wholly backed by corporations seeking to put product samples in the hands of teenagers suddenly in charge of their own purchasing decisions. For Mr. Hart, who does hundreds of events a year, Frosh Carnival’s rock climbing wall, jousting ring and other games were expected to bring in about $250,000 in revenue, but signify much more.

In the past, marketers have designed their own programs. “Now, we’re controlling the creative,” Mr. Hart says.

“It’s our opportunity to develop our own brand.”

Know your audience

Students “are in a situation where they have to cook for themselves for the first time, and simplicity is still one of the top things young consumers are looking for,” notes Rob Tallis, a director of marketing with ConAgra Foods Canada.

His firm promoted Chef Boyardee and Orville Redenbacher popcorn at Frosh Carnival. Sampling the snacks, says Mr. Tallis, “reminds them, ‘Hey, this is food that you loved as a kid. You might not have had it that much as a teenager, but now that you’re out on your own again, remember how easy it is to make, how much you like it’—and they’ll engage with our brand again.”

Don’t be shy

For years, university students were prickly about corporate come-ons. Not any more. “It’s a slightly more global and aware young person than before,” says Toronto-based youth marketing consultant Max Valiquette. “When people think about where they want to spend their time protesting, it’s going to be less and less about the marketing of a brand on campus and more and more about the fact that we just lost quite literally an entire Gulf to oil.

“You seem kind of antiquated and out of touch if you’re actually railing against Kraft sampling on campus.”

Play by the rules

At Carleton University, access to students is guarded by an orientation advisory board and informed by a Statement of Inclusivity that bans marketers like tobacco merchants and credit card firms. And while the companies in Frosh Carnival likely passed muster, Adbusters subscribers can rest easy: Frosh Carnival was located just off campus. “We’re not bringing these products into people’s residence rooms,” notes Jeremy Brzozowski, co-ordinator of the student development and first-year experience program. “If they’re not feeling that connection...nothing is going to be forced upon them.”

This story first appeared in the September, 2010 issue of Your Business magazine.

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