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Marketing to students – a shifting paradigm

Pete Davis
By Pete Davis  //  Wed 14th August 2013
It can be easy to assume that students as a demographic have limited purchasing power, especially in this day and age where many are struggling to find the funds to study in the first place.

Contrary to this view, we now live in an era where advertising to students holds more potential than ever – this has little to do with any major changes in student lifestyle or attitudes. They still hang out in pubs, join sports clubs, buy cool clothes and shoes (and study of course).

There are however, dramatic differences to the way that they consume and use media, opening up a number of new and diverse advertising opportunities for advertisers.

According to a recent study of 11,000 UK students by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), 82% of new students at universities or colleges in the UK own a smartphone - a growth of 122% since 2010, and 20% own a tablet device. In fact students are now 40% more likely to own a smartphone than the overall UK population.  

While these points are positive news for advertisers, the downside is students will prioritise cramming for their finals, juggling their social lives and working part-time jobs. Marketing messages have to be timed and they have to be relevant if they are going to grab the attention of tech-savvy students.

Keith Parkman, of UCAS Media, said: 'Marketing professionals should picture students looking at content while travelling on the bus, rushing to a lecture or out socialising. They don’t have much time to spend looking at adverts and the impact has to be immediate and specifically relevant to them at that moment in time.'

Grabbing attention

Some of the best solutions for brands combine a mix of digital and traditional techniques to grab the attention of students. Student advertiser, Gradnotes! distributes A4, 80p, wire-bound Notepads biannually to 150,000 students in all major universities in London. The notepad is interlinked with a smartphone app and social media channels leveraging its digital impressions to approx 100,000 per month.

Redbus operates the UK's only on-campus digital 6-sheet media network, featuring sites within some of the nation's largest universities & colleges. Advertisers can now integrate campaigns with these HD digital screens increasing brand engagement with students who are always connected on campus via their smartphones, tablets and laptops and deliver up to the minute messages right into the student social hub.

Each year, The National Union of Students (NUS) distributes the 'must have’ discount and lifestyle card for students which gives brands the potential to reach up to 5.7 million students in the UK. Opportunities include physical sponsorship of the card as well as brand association touch points across digital and direct mail properties. Brands that have sponsored the card in the past include, STA Travel, Dominos, McDonalds, Odeon, Dell, Amazon and Cross Country Trains.

Subtv (a marketing agency for targeting 18-24yr olds) has just announced the launch of the 2014 ‘Emerging Music Awards’ in partnership with Universal Music to discover the best unsigned bands and artists across the UK.  The awards open up a number of advertising opportunities for brands across the Subtv network from student radio segments to branded video content on YouTube, social media activity and branding at the live events. Channel 4, Talenthouse and YouTube have combined to launch a similar initiative, called ‘Four to the Floor’ creating a great fit for a youth-orientated brand to form an association with a brand new music show providing multi-platform advertising opportunities.

These examples demonstrate an age-old marketing principle for brands – music (along with sex, drugs and rock n’ roll) is a powerful route to reach and influence students, who might choose to become opinion formers and ambassadors for these brands. On the other hand if students have opinions or complaints to make – whether it is a problem with their food purchase or a hole in their new favourite jeans, they can quickly spread the word about what they like and don’t like to their peers on campus and globally via social media. The brands that market well to this demographic are the ones embracing these two-way lines of communication.

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