Universities & Colleges Marketing – can billboards engage prospective students?

university marketing image of students celebrating graduation

Universities and colleges marketing is a competitive environment. With major hikes in tuition fees and increasing options for prospective students, we take a look at how higher education institutions can use billboards to get an edge on the competition.

‘Demand for higher education remains high among 18 year olds’

Rumour has it that since 2012, when the coalition government introduced the £9000 per annum university tuition fee, the number of applicants to UK universities dropped. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this fee hike would act as a major deterrent.

However, in a report published by UCAS last month, there has only been a 1% drop in applications from 18 year olds to full time university education across the UK. In fact, in England, ‘the proportion of 18 year olds in the population who apply to university has risen to a record 37%.’  

Mary Curnock Cook, CEO of UCAS, comments, ‘It’s clear that the tough recruitment environment for universities will continue through 2017, leading to unprecedented choice and opportunity for the applicant.’

Competition to attract interest from prospective students is fiercer than ever. Colleges and universities are needing to up their game when it comes to employing marketing strategies.

So can university billboards hope to engage prospective students?

By using billboards and, indeed, other forms of outdoor advertising, universities and colleges can undoubtedly create a huge opportunity to engage future students. The sheer scope and versatility of an outdoor marketing campaign increases the chance of engagement amongst young people. Indeed, you could be so bold as to say that an outdoor marketing campaign utilising billboards may be considerably more effective than an online digital campaign utilising click-ads and banner-ads. Here’s why…

Young people don’t pay as much attention to online adverts as you think

It would be highly unusual to find a young person over the age of 16 not in possession of a smartphone or without a social media profile. It would therefore follow that perhaps the most effective way of engaging prospective students with college or university marketing would be via online ads. But is that really the case?

Marketingcharts.com recently investigated the types of advertisements that students pay the most attention to: ‘For females, the top 3 are upcoming movies, health and beauty, and fashion, while for males, the top 3 are video games, upcoming movies and tech products.’

The study continues to reveal that ‘few youth pay much attention to mobile or tablet banner ads. In fact, the…report separately finds that 57% of college students say they ‘never’ click on the banner ads they encounter online, and 30% ‘never’ look at them. Moreover, 56% say they try to avoid pop-up ads and banners…’

Over half of potential college and university students never click on or even completely avoid adverts encountered online, and even if they did, it would most likely not be about further education. (Film, fashion and the latest technology come up trumps).

Always on the move

university and college marketing campaigns outdoors

The majority of 16-18 year olds enjoy exploring their ever-increasing freedom and independence. They spend a vast amount of time catching buses and trains or being taxied around by long-suffering parents. They frequent leisure centres, cinemas, cafes and shopping centres, and generally hang around public spaces.

There is, therefore, an immense opportunity to creatively use the urban space in a town or city placing billboards that will be noticed. Waiting for a friend outside a shop, sitting in a cafe, waiting for a bus, catching a train, driving the same route to school- all tremendous advertising opportunities.

Billboards are a constant presence

With all of this to-ing and fro-ing, the one constant in an outdoor marketing campaign is the positioning of various billboards. Advertising spaces can be secured for as long as a budget allows and these billboards are an immovable and unmissable visual that will encourage engagement with a university or college marketing campaign. In the long higher education selection process, billboards can provide that much needed jog to the memory. They can’t be removed by the click of a button or ignored like a pop-up ad on a social media website. You can’t not look. And what you see, you can’t unsee.

Prospective students will engage with billboards at specific times

Young people will often only engage with something if it is relevant to them in the moment. Outdoor billboards can be most successful if efforts and resources are focussed on advertising before and during the university or college enrollment period. A call-to-action can generate faster responses and provide a means of tracking how successful your advert is. The enrollment period is when prospective students will be most receptive, engaging and proactive – this opportunity shouldn’t be missed. However, if an outdoor presence is maintained throughout the rest of the year, it often ensures a particular brand is remembered and immediately recognised alongside competitors when the enrollment period does come round.

University billboards can reach students on the school run

The most successful outdoor adverts are ones that have carefully thought about their target demographic. They have asked questions like ‘where do they travel?’ ‘what times of day do they travel?’ ‘What are the most popular routes to school?’- looking at buses, trains and car journeys. Naturally, areas that have the highest footfall will prove to be the most successful locations for billboards.

Don’t forget the parents

It would be easy to dismiss the role of the parent, but ‘where should I study?’ is a huge question for any young person to ask. Parents will more often than not, be heavily involved in the vetting process and many will be involved in subsidising tuition fees (if applicable) as well as living costs. University and colleges employing an outdoor marketing strategy can generate higher engagement levels if they don’t forget the parents.  University billboards seen by both parents and children on a school journey or on a shopping trip can prompt conversations and lead to decisions. A ‘serious and concise’ tone is what this article suggests to best engage students and parents alike.  If the language is accessible to parents and prospective students alike, you have a win.

Billboards are an essential part of an effective marketing campaign for universities and colleges

A typical young person in the process of applying for further education is at a perfect age for noticing and being exposed to university and college billboards. During enrolment time, they will be paying attention to large, immovable adverts and repeatedly reminded of an advertisement through constant exposure. Since young people are less likely to be influenced by an online campaign of click-ads, billboards and other outdoor advertising are a highly effective way for universities and colleges to engage with prospective students.