Dorm decor, fall school fashion, and search engines? Microsoft wanted to show young women that its Bing search engine is worth checking out, so when it threw down the gauntlet last week encouraging people to test its search engine against Google's, it worked with HerCampus.com to get the word out to influential collegiate women.
Bing's social marketing team, along with Waggener Edstrom has been working with HerCampus since early summertime to make the search brand more acceptable and relevant to college students. But the Bing branding that took over the site for the Bing It On challenge last week was a continuation of a more integrated effort.
"Search engines aren't sexy," and marketing a search engine to college women is "difficult," said Windsor Hanger, co-founder, president and publisher of Her Campus Media. Hanger founded the online magazine for college women during her senior year at Harvard in 2009. HerCampus has 200 campus-specific sites across the country from Amherst College to University of Washington.
This summer, Bing hosted exclusive parties for influential women on campus in New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta. "They wanted to get fun, popular, trend-setting college women to come to these search engine parties," Hanger said.
But not just anyone could come. Bing and HerCampus ensured party goers were part of the in-crowd by requiring they request an invite through Facebook Connect. Women with enough Facebook friends and Twitter followers were allowed to pass through the velvet rope. The social media connection made sense as Bing aimed to promote its new social features.
"We wanted to make sure there was exclusivity to the party, and wanted the right people - we wanted influencers," Hanger said.
In addition to the parties and a splashy site homepage take over on HerCampus last week, the site featured posts about the Bing It On challenge.
Simply go to bingiton.com, type in five random search queries (Ryan Reynolds? Fall internships? Jimmy Choo boots?), and compare the two side-by-side results windows that appear. You won't know which list is Bing's and which is Google's.
"We deliver marketing messages in an authentic way to our national and segmented audiences," said Hanger, noting that advertisers send the HerCampus copy points and its student writers help convey those messages in ways that are relevant to college-age readers.
While today's HerCampus sponsor is online shoe retailer JustFab, the Bing relationship isn't the site's only tech advertiser. In July, HerCampus held a conference for all of its writers in New York, and Intel branded the event to promote its Ultrabook technology. The processor maker has run several campaigns with the site publisher, Hanger said.