Published on 2013/04/25
Marketing CE | Failure: iPad Skin Cover
Trying to brand everyday items is a significant challenge for a marketer and, sometimes, ideas that seem fool-proof end up failing. Branded iPad skins was, unfortunately, part of that group of initiatives.

Most of my marketing endeavors are successful. But every once in a while, I make a mistake, and this is the story of one of those cases.

It started with a good idea. Actually, a great idea.

Some of the private, for-profit schools I’d heard of were doing something I couldn’t: giving away iPads to new students in their non-credit certificate programs. The students don’t mind the extra $800 or so charge on top of their normal tuition, as their employers, in most cases, pay the program tuition and fees in full. To the employee, it’s a free iPad.

The for-profit schools were putting PDF copies of course textbooks and materials on the iPad, which allowed the student to claim the iPad as a required textbook expense if an issue later arose. I watched my enrollment drop in classes that were offered by both public and for-profit institutions.

Students even told me they took courses we offer elsewhere for the free iPad, despite our student experience and level of instruction being superior in comparison. I was losing students to a gimmick.

Some students even brought their free iPad to classes they later took on my campus. Seeing the iPads on campus is what made me think I had a good idea: to cover the iPad with my logo.

One of the private, for-profit schools gave its students an iPad on the first day of class. A copy of the textbook was on the home screen. But they didn’t brand the iPad with the school logo — no home screen icon, no sticker, no case; just a plain, grayish iPad.

So I had screen covers, stickers for the back and a wallpaper for the home screen made with our logo on it. We invested $1,200 into this project and stocked 100 iPad skins.

During each course we run, I visit the classroom at least once to thank students for attending and to have a conversation on how we can make their experience better. Once we had the branded material, whenever I saw an iPad in the classroom I was visiting, I’d offer a cover with our school logo on it. Some students without iPads asked for a cover.

But in two years of providing covers to students, I only saw one in use. I casually asked students if they ever saw the iPad skins in use, or what they did with the ones we provided to them.

The common answer: it’s in a drawer at home.

Our marketing item wasn’t being used. Not even in an unintended way. It flat out was just being ignored — and that’s a failure of the marketing item.

Marketing CE is an ongoing series where John DeLalla will discuss various strategies, both successful and unsuccessful, that have been implemented to creatively market continuing education.

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Readers Comments

Stephanie Ritchie 2013/04/25 at 10:35 am

It’s surprising to me that these institutions offering free iPads aren’t also branding them. If your iPad skin covers had taken off, you would have had a very successful and economical marketing tool at their expense.

I wouldn’t call your idea a failure at all; it was creative and resourceful. Can’t win them all, right?

    Ursula V.F. 2013/04/25 at 1:40 pm

    Definitely! Good thing it was only a $1,200 investment!

    It would be interesting to learn more about how you measure the outcomes of your marketing initiatives. You said that after chatting informally with students, you determined that the iPad skins were a “failure.” Was that the only measure you used? If not, what are some other ones?

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