For HP's low-budget effort, the computer maker gave a HDX Dragon notebook computer to each of 31 bloggers, who set up contests to give them away to their readers.
It's near impossible to estimate how much money it would have cost Hewlett-Packard to run a traditional marketing campaign as successful as this summer's blogger-driven venture promoting its HP HDX Dragon notebook computer.
"The total cost of the campaign was about $250,000," said Chris Aarons, a partner at word-of-mouth marketing agency Buzz Corps, which partnered with HP on the effort. He figured it would cost "tens of millions of dollars" to stage a traditional ad campaign that could come close to the success of the so-called "31 Days of the Dragon" promotion, which ran from early May through early June.
For the low-budget effort, HP gave a $5,100 HDX Dragon to each of 31 bloggers, who set up contests to give them away to their readers. In the end, the promotion was credited with an 84 percent increase in sales on the unit, a 10 percent increase in overall PC sales, and a 14 percent increase in traffic to hpshopping.com.
The contests ignited a fire of interest reflected in nearly 400,000 Google searches that specifically included the contest's name. "If you look at the way these [bloggers] talked about it, they evangelized it and talked about how amazing it was," said Aarons. "They really sold the product for HP."
Buzz Corps and HP are confident the contests and the buzz they created were fully responsible for the boost in sales of Dragons -- HP's top-of-the-line laptop -- and for the bump in overall computer sales during a slow time of year. Aarons also said the participating bloggers saw their sites' traffic increase by between 150 percent and 5,000 percent during the contest.
HP began working with Buzz Corps because it wanted to increase its social network/participation marketing, said Aarons. Buzz Corps has created a number of programs designed to help companies "get foothold with bloggers," including product giveaways.
"We talked about how we could give back to the bloggers, and we came up with the idea of giving away a Dragon computer," said Aarons. "HP, wanting to do the right thing, said, "If we're going to give something away, let's give the biggest, baddest toy.' "
The Dragon wasn't selling very well at the time, according to Aarons. That changed as the bloggers wrote glowingly about the computer and worked together to promote their contests. The only requests made of the bloggers by HP was that they give away the notebooks, do it on random dates, promote the other blogs involved in the campaign and that nothing about their contests would be "detrimental to HP," said Aarons.
The bloggers "basically created their own virtual agency. They created widgets, banner ads, schedules, micro-sites, landing pages to concentrate big traffic and all that stuff," he added.
To get a broad cross-section of participation, Buzz Corps specifically chose both highly-popular bloggers and those with less-visited sites. The goal was to "take over a nice little part of the Internet," explained Aarons.The promotion ran on tech news and review sites including Ars Technica, Geeks to Go!, and The Gadgeteer.
It didn't take long after the contests were launched for HP's competitors to take notice. Based on what the bloggers reported to Buzz Corps, some of the rival brands were in panic mode. "One of the things the bloggers told us is that, the day after contests were announced, they started getting calls from HP competitors," said Aarons. "Immediately, we knew that every one of HP's competitors was in reaction mode, which was tremendous."
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