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Jun 15, 2001
Case Study

Selling to Teen Girls on the Internet -- The Graffiti Online Story

SUMMARY: As any advertiser on Buffy the Vampire Slayer knows, the female teenaged audience is a world unto itself. For example, teen girls are more likely to purchase online than their mothers, fathers or brothers are. Plus, they are a lot less likely to fret about online privacy issues. (In fact they'll blithely hand out their email addresses with to pretty much anyone who asks.)

We learned these facts from Graffiti Online, one of the most successful online retailers targeting teen girls. Here's their marketing story...

Gregg Altimari, VP Business Development for Graffiti Online, has a advertising budget of precisely zero. He says, "We don't spend one dollar on marketing, we never have." Luckily as he says, "Marketing is definitely my calling in life. I've been marketing to teens for the past ten years. I love it."


Altimari started driving site traffic with a viral marketing campaign. He says, "Every girl has five friends. That word of mouth adds up after a while."

What could be so enticingly cool that girls would tell all their friends about it? The chance to beat up a celebrity. Altimari sent an email message to a house list comprised of his teen employees and retail store shoppers (Graffiti has one brick and mortar store in New York) inviting them to click to the site and virtually punch the celebrity they hated the most in the face with a boxing glove. Altimari says gleefully, "The blood starts coming out. It's gory. You could pick Madonna, Brittany Spears, Sarah Michelle Geller...."

At about the same time Graffiti Online also launched an affiliate program and encouraged both individual girls and professional affiliates (such as to join it.

To keep the relationship going, site visitors are encouraged to sign up to receive emailed special offers on a weekly basis. The offers vary between dollars off, percents off, a one-day sale, etc. Each HTML weekly features the same graphics and flair that characterize the site itself. Like any smart direct marketer, Altimari keeps his names in a database so he create and send different emailed offers based on buying habits. So, often the emailed offer or featured product you get will not be the same one your girlfriend gets.

Altimari also encourages repeat visitors by switching the apparel and CD products featured on the home page, once a week. He says, "That's a retail trick. They'll come into a store on Monday, and then back on Thursday. Even if the inventory is the same, if you move things around they think everything's different."

One of the biggest challenges for online apparel retailers is the dressing room factor. Altimari says, "In the store, girls take things into the dressing room, try it all on and then she's done. Online she'll buy a little less because she's not sure if it will fit, and then she'll return things and maybe buy other things." He gets around this by featuring many items priced below $20 to encourage impulse buying, and by using almost 3D-style photographs that show you what the item will look like on the body (although there's no model pictured.)

Plus, all -- yes all -- of Altimari's customer service reps are teenaged girls. He says, "People call or email in all the time with questions like 'My hips are big, which jeans will fit me?' Our customer service reps are trained like sales people in the store. They know all the products well so they can answer all the questions." During the school year he runs two shifts, using recent high school grads when school's in session. During the summer he switches to 100% "younger" reps. He explains, "You don't want a 70 year old lady telling a 16 year old girl what to buy. They would think Graffiti's fake. We should be young."

Last year Altimari launched the "girlcash" promotion to raise his average sale online. Graffiti shoppers get a girlcash gift certificate worth $10 every time they buy at least $50 of apparel or accessories. Like many of us, Altimari hates pop-ups; but he knew girlcash would take off like a rocket if he could just bring himself to add a pop-up to the site's home page. After dragging his feet for over a year, he reluctantly added a pop-up just two weeks ago.

He says, "If I was going to do one I was going to make one that was good. I tried to make it as non-obnoxious as possible." In fact, the pop-up, featuring a photo of a happy blonde teen, is one of the best we've ever seen. (We encourage you to check it out at their site -- link below.) Unlike most sites, Altimari does not cookie visitors so he can turn off the pop-up if they've already seen it recently. He says, "The attention span of our consumer is like that of a flea. They need to see something a million times before they get it."

Altimari has also started offering girlcash cards at in order to acquire new customers. He's had to write extremely compelling copy for the offer because many of the shoppers, such as moms, have never heard of Graffiti Online. (We've put a sample of this copy below.)


Graffiti Online has become so well known in its target market that Sprite actually approached Altimari to ask if they could pay for a co-marketing radio campaign, hoping that some of Graffiti's cool image would rub off on their product. (Yes, Altimari accepted!)

The girlcash offer at has been very successful, in fact last month was a record-breaking month. Altimari notes that this is partially due to the fact that, because of alphabetical order, Graffiti's offer appears directly below The Gap's.

The girlcash pop-up has also worked well. Altimari says, "It's a great promotion. We've seen probably an 11% increase in the average dollar order."

So far Graffiti Online has about 3,000 affiliates who are responsible for approximately 5-10% of total site revenues. Altimari says, "One dollar made is a dollar more than we had without it. And more people know about us, so we're happy about that."

One last interesting fact -- Graffiti Online's customers are far more likely to contact customer service via email than any other way, even though the site offers instant chat and a toll-free phone number.

Digital girlcash gift cards are provided by Praxell

Email distribution is by SparkLIST

Affiliate program is through Commission Junction

COPY SAMPLE: Here's the copy Altimari's had success with at

"Give her what she really wants, a Graffiti "Girl Cash" gift card. She's cool, fashion savvy, and likes to wear what she wants. Graffiti provides all the name brand designer street wear she wants, like Diesel, Polo Jeans Co, Steve Madden, DKNY and tons more. She'll love shopping online at Graffiti for shoes, accessories, and of course, tons of the best clothing styles around.

Graffiti gift cards can be redeemed online by selecting "Girl Cash" as your payment type when completing your order."
See Also:

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