MarketingMonitor: Britannica Case Study

CASE STUDY: Britannica

Over 50 Sites Run Encyclopaedia Britannica Competition

The door-to-door encyclopaedia salesman is a rare sight these days. Was it the wealth of information available online that caused the death of the purveyor of invaluable tomes of general knowledge? Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is no. In the digital age, the biggest name in encyclopaedias, Britannica, has seen online sales of CDs and DVDs grow. In sales of interactive reference material Britannica is ranked second in DVD sales and 12th in CD sales. They now do more selling desktop to desktop than door to door.

Britannica is a trusted brand, long associated with well-researched and reliable information on a vast array of subjects. The encyclopaedias are regarded as a valuable reference tool for school students by both the students and their parents. The Internet may provide plenty of reference information but encyclopaedias hold the information in one accessible, safe, reliable place.

Britannica approached agency, iJack, to develop a strategy to drive online sales of CDs/DVDs. Britannica wanted to align a slightly 'old fashioned' brand with modern technology, to re-enforce Britannica as a solid, trustworthy educational tool and to get this message out to the key audiences of parents and school children.

The strategy devised by iJack was simple. A long-term programme of promotions was created to run across carefully selected sites - those appealing to parents and homework sites aimed at school children.

The campaign was run over a period of fifteen months with extra activity during key sales periods in September 2000 (the new school year), running up to Christmas 2000 and Easter 2001.

In total over 50 sites were targeted with promotions highlighted in the publication's email newsletter. Many of the promotions were easy-entry competitions (e.g. multiple choice questions). These were accompanied by low-key advertorial, product shots and links to the site. Sites targeted included many family ISPs such as Freeserve, AOL and Compuserve.

The promotions aimed at the younger audience were placed on sites where the kids would be in 'homework mode' and more likely to interact with an educational brand. Copies of encyclopaedias were offered as incentives for competitions that required a high level of participation from the youngsters.

For example on readers of the Newsround section were asked to submit a mock newspaper report. The best entries as judged by Newsround had their work published on the website and collected their prize of a Britannica encyclopaedia.

The encyclopaedias were incentives for submitting good work - a strategy also used in offline activity. Britannica sponsored prizes for's Virtual Versailles Project. The project asked children to re-write the Versailles Treaty and was promoted in The Guardian newspaper. Encyclopaedias were also on offer in a prize draw in the offline newsletter.

Other promotions requiring participation included a prize draw on S-Cool, a homework resource site. CDs and DVDs were used as an incentive to take part in the site's annual student survey. On Freeserve, a prize draw was open to users submitting questions to a debate about electronic learning.

All in all, the competitions received over 18,500 entries but editorial and branded pages reached an audience of several hundred thousand.

Agency fees averaged £1,500 per month, varying according to the change in activity seasonally with prizes supplied by Britannica. After the initial flurry of launch activity in February 1999, iJack have worked on a project basis, concentrating activity during the key sales periods of Easter, Christmas and the new school year.

The email campaign produced a high response rate with 1,600 users hitting the game on the first day of the campaign. During the month after launch, the game received 30,000 page impressions and overall the Hoovers site saw a 150% increase in unique users.

Marketing to children and teenagers brings with it a whole range of restrictions. For Britannica it was important not to be seen to target this audience too aggressively and to avoid compromising the educational values of the brand. An 'educational brand' faces it's own problems - as many parents know, making homework fun can be a challenge.

The campaign avoided a 'hard sell' attitude by placing Britannica where it would be perceived as an aid to learning and by catching youngsters when they would be most receptive - when they were learning.

Christine Hodgson, Marketing Manager of Britannica, acknowledged that it wasn't easy to measure the effect of iJack's work on sales. Shoppers who delay getting out the credit card online straight away, may still buy later either on or offline. But Britannica did see a growth in online sales during the campaign and were pleased with the results.

"iJack targetted the audience perfectly and gave Britannica exposure on a good cross section of sites and we saw a good increase in traffic to all Britannica sites. Product awareness is high and Britannica CD Roms and DVDs have remained in the top ten sales for interactive learning material throughout the campaign"

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