For the students at Ohio State University cramming for finals this week and pulling all-nighters to study, the Nestlé brand Coffee-mate has come to the rescue.
A 20-foot-high “coffee cup” looms over the centrally located South Oval calling to students to fuel up. Alongside are two companion tents serving free hot coffee with a variety of Coffee-mate creamer flavors to choose from.
Marketing to college students is “a great opportunity for the brand to introduce Coffee-mate to students at a time when they are developing their own tastes around coffee, or maybe even trying coffee for the first time,” says Lauren Parker, experiential marketing manager at Nestlé.
In addition to a cup of Joe, students visiting “The Café” can have chair massages, warm up by portable heaters, play games and listen to music or use the charging stations. The Café, produced by campus agency marketing partner Fluent Group, also stages surprise, like the energetic appearances of Brutus the Buckeye mascot and the OSC Cheerleaders. Prizes include branded sunglasses, travel mugs and Coffee-mate 2GO.
Paid ambassadors, who are OSU students, are baristas at the tents. They have been offering up samples of 18 Coffee-mate flavors, including seasonal flavors Peppermint Mocha, Gingerbread, Eggnog, and a real favorite, Chocolate Chip Cookie, since Dec. 7. The last cup of free Joe will be served on Dec. 14.
“With college students we’ve seen that it’s great to have students who are passionate about our brand and peer-to-peer messaging really goes a long way,” Parker says. “It’s authentic and authenticity is important. By having students serve the coffee to other students it’s much more fun and memorable than otherwise.”
The Café promotes itself simply by its presence in an area highly trafficked by students. The goal was to distribute about 2,500 Coffee-mate samples per day, but that goal has doubled to about 5,000 samples per day.
“We wanted to be somewhere highly visible and right in the center of a main thoroughfare of campus traffic where students naturally gravitate or walk through,” says Matt Fasano, account director at Fluent. “We wanted to create a spectacle that differentiated the brand.”
To add a real flair to the event, students can Tweet to @coffee_mate using #coffeemateatosu to have a fresh cup of coffee—and Coffee-mate creamers—delivered within five to 10 minutes all over campus by student ambassadors driving crimson-colored scooters with tow-behind sampling stations. The delivery service was marketed onsite via signage at The Café, through a team of student ambassadors who pre-promoted the service and earned media from students taking photographs of the signage and posting it to their social channels. Students are taking advantage of the offer and social media is booming around The Café.
“It’s a very authentic, genuine, interactive experience with students that yielded a lot of great social traction without a lot of prompting on our part,” Fasano says. “We’re not only having an exchange with students, but once the coffee has been delivered they typically create a tweet thanking us with a photo.”
Coffee-mate has been on the OSU campus for about a year now, but The Café is by far it’s largest and most extravagant event. Over the last three semesters, the brand and its student ambassadors have had a weekly presence at key moments—study hall, the library to name two—to serve complimentary coffee and a variety of the creamer flavors.
“The goal is to build awareness with students and to enhance the programming we were already doing in a bigger way,” Parker says. “We really wanted to come in and own finals’ week on campus. It’s a mindset that this is really about introducing Coffee-mate to students in a way that is relevant to them. We want them to notice that we have a regular presence here and to keep us top of mind.”