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Sauder instructor Paul Cubbon is making the competition a required assignment for fourth-year marketing students - photo by Martin Dee
Sauder instructor Paul Cubbon is making the competition a required assignment for fourth-year marketing students - photo by Martin Dee

UBC Reports | Vol. 54 | No. 11 | Nov. 6, 2008

Students Score in Google Challenge

By Lorraine Chan

David Beckham helped UBC business students score a winning shot during a recent Google competition that demanded both cyber smarts and marketing prowess.

A team of Sauder School of Business students placed in the top 10 per cent of the first-ever Google Online Marketing Challenge.

They did this by homing in on keywords “David Beckham” to boost ticket sales for a Vancouver Whitecaps versus Los Angeles Galaxy exhibition soccer game that took place in Edmonton this May.

The Google Online Marketing Challenge required entrants to devise an effective online campaign for a local business. Each team received US $200 of free advertising on Google AdWords -- the ads that appear above or to the right of hyperlinks generated by a regular Google search.

UBC was one of four Canadian universities taking part in the Google challenge – one that attracted more than 1,600 student teams from 47 countries. An independent panel of academics from around the world ranked the students’ campaign results.

Justin Wong, then a fourth-year marketing student at Sauder, found the learning curve fairly intense during the three-week Whitecaps advertising campaign.

Wong and his two Sauder teammates had to quickly figure out the intricacies of Google AdWords. The system works by auctioning keywords to the highest bidder. Advertisers must then pay that agreed-upon amount to Google each time someone clicks on the keywords.

And similar to organic Google searches, Google AdWords is also powered by search engine algorithms that reward relevance, ranking ads according to the frequency of clicks.

“So even if a company outbids others on a particular keyword,” explains Wong, “its ad will move down to a less prominent spot if consumers are not clicking on it.”

During initial bidding, Wong and his teammates won the use of keywords “David Beckham” for $2 per click. Then the Google Adwords auctions heated up.

“Bids went up to $3 per click,” says Wong. However, the team thought the Beckham buzz was worthy paying the higher rate and would complement the campaign’s other keywords, “Vancouver soccer” and “Vancouver Whitecaps soccer,” which by comparison cost between 50 cents and a dollar per click.

“The reason we did so well had a lot to do strategic advertising and timing,” says Wong. “We picked an event that could generate ticket sales and kick off a huge awareness campaign.”

By spending $123 on Google AdWords, the team increased web traffic for the Vancouver Whitecaps website. Over the three weeks, their ads promoting Whitecaps’ season ticket sales and the Galaxy-Whitecaps exhibition game generated a total of 141,452 impressions. An impression is when each time the ad loads onto a user’s screen. That translated to about 12 impressions per penny spent on Google Adwords.

However, online advertising demands constant vigilance, says Wong, who is building a career in the online industry.

During the campaign, the three students had to spend time each day monitoring whether people were actually conducting Google searches with the keywords they were bidding on. They also had to calculate how much these “click throughs” cost in light of their total advertising budget.

Sauder marketing instructor Paul Cubbon says he’s delighted at how quickly students applied their “big picture” learning to a live environment.

“They’re taking what they understand about consumer behaviour, segmentation, targeting, perceptual mapping and positioning concepts into an evolving space,” says Cubbon. “In this way, students are able to link strategy to implementation and results.”

By way of proof, Cubbon points to yet another Sauder student team that finished strongly, making the competition’s semi-finals within the “Americas” category. Over a three-week period, that team succeeded in generating close to 13 per cent of the total traffic to the Sauder home page by attracting potential applicants and showcasing Sauder’s HR specializations in the MBA program.

Starting next January, Cubbon will make the Google Online Marketing Challenge a required assignment for his fourth-year e-marketing class.

“It makes students really job-ready,” says Cubbon, noting that in the past marketing students wouldn’t be tackling such complex tasks until some time into an actual job.

Wong says the Google competition gave him a head start on what has become the Holy Grail of most businesses today: search engine optimization.

“With the pressure on businesses to cut costs, online marketing is really the final frontier, the next big thing,” says Wong.

To view the Google challenge, visit: www.google.com/onlinechallenge.

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Last reviewed 06-Nov-2008

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