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#2.20: The “Half.com Way” Issue

One of the success stories of the pure-play Internet retailers is Half.com, a person-to-person retailer of books, music, movies, and more. Aside from a solid model, it’s success and widespread infamy was due to unconventional offline marketing tactics. The following anecdotes came out of an event hosted by Philadelphia-based Eastern Technology Council. Thank you Ross Kramer of Vertex for passing these along to us.

1 > Confucius says: Use both sides of the fortune
2 > Advertising in the strangest places — it works
3 > Using employees to extend the message
4 > Get a town to rename itself after you

1 > Confucius says: Use both sides of the fortune

Along the same lines of innovative food accessory marketing like the Ask Jeeves’ Dole Banana sticker campaign, Half.com cut an unprecedented deal with Brooklyn-based Wonton Food Inc. to place $5 off coupons on the back of the fortunes tucked into fortune cookies. Previously unused space, the mammoth fortune cookie maker printed the ad and coupon code on the back of millions of fortunes, which ran during the 2001 fall and winter seasons. The cookies, which are distributed to Wonton’s restaurant clients, were read and used by a national audience.

The lesson: There’s a first for everything. If you identify a unique opportunity, there’s likely a price tag. Always pursue your gut.

2 > Advertising in the strangest places — it works

Urinal filters, ATM receipts, flip flop soles, coffee cup sleeves, toilet paper, and hubcaps — yes, Half.com has used each of these unconventional marketing methods to drive traffic and sales. Each person withdrawing money or checking his or her balance at a MAC ATM received a printed Half.com coupon. Coffee shops served piping hot coffee with Half.com coffee sleeves, and of course, a printed coupon. Spring Breakers were given free Half.com flip flops, each flop sporting a Half.com logo on its bottom, imprinting the logo in the sand. Taxi cabs in Philadelphia, Boston, New York, and San Francisco sported ads on their hubcaps. College students received free rolls of Half.com-printed toilet paper in which each sheet displayed a $10 off textbooks coupon. Lastly, urinal filters — well, you get the idea. Most of the coupons on these marketing vehicles were for first-time Half.com shoppers — while they acquire a new customer, Half.com also reminds old, loyal shoppers to come back again.

The lesson: Step outside the norm to seek out innovative buzz distribution techniques. Identify where a large number of targeted eyeballs reside and make a presence.

3 > Using employees to extend the message

We’ve advised before to have your staff use email auto signatures to promote company newsletters. Along these lines Half.com gave its employees and investors magnetic ads to place on their cars. It’s more than just using your employees to promote the company — it’s about getting your employees excited and passionate about working there and harnessing the enthusiasm to make them put in the extra effort.

The lesson: If your employees are jazzed about the business, they will be happy to sport company gear at all times.

4 > Get a town to rename itself after you

Here’s a story many of you have heard, but it’s worth retelling. Josh Kopelman, founder and chief executive of Half.com, convinced a small town (population 345) to change its name from Halfway to Half.com. With a price tag of $75K and almost two-dozen computers, the transaction and the transformation were complete. This never-before coup landed Half.com on the map, derived substantial national publicity, and drove an extraordinary number of sales. Shortly after that, the company was bought by eBay for $300 million.

The lesson: Unconventional returns big.

More info:
http://town.half.ebay.com

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