University of opportunity

If you're a marketer looking for a large group of impressionable young people eager to spend their money, then look no further than a university or college campus.

If you’re a marketer looking for a large group of impressionable young people eager to spend their money, then look no further than a university or college campus.

Not only are they the key consumers and high earners of the future, but right now the 900,000 full-time and close to one million part-time post-secondary students in Canada form an accessible, captive audience that often has yet to develop brand loyalties. Marketers know that once they enter the work force, students will make excellent customers, as they tend to earn more, spend more and borrow more than people who never attended university.

Restrictions on campus advertising have been relaxed in recent years, giving rise to an increasing number of tours, contests and promotional events to push a wide range of products and services at the lucrative student demographic.

‘Marketers need to get their product directly into the hands of the students,’ says Greg Gallo, account manager at Toronto-based event marketing company Free For All Marketing (FFAM). ‘Mass media and Internet contests are all very well, but there is still a lot to be gained from being there in person, and giving the students something tangible that they can test, eat, wear, feel or come away with.’

FFAM, which was founded just over a year ago, specializes in grassroots promotions and has so far organized 15 campus events.

The most recent event, which ran on 11 campuses across Canada this fall, was the Levi’s Live Talent Show, one of a series of events held by the retailer this year. A team of specially chosen representatives toured the campuses and other youth-friendly locations, encouraging students to participate in a talent show to win Levi’s T-shirts, backpacks and vouchers.

One of the keys to a good campus promotion, Gallo says, is sending out young, energetic representatives to whom the students can relate. The lure of freebies or the possibility of big prizes are other good student magnets. During the Levi’s event, some 4,000 free gifts were given away, while numerous other students were exposed to the Levi’s brand by watching their colleagues perform.

In addition to the major retailers, banks and credit card companies are also anxious to forge relationships with students destined to become the borrowers of the future.

Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) operates largely through sponsorship deals with university fairs and strategic partnerships with other brands. Alliances have recently been formed with brands such as Student Price Card, AOL, and youth internship program Career Edge.

‘What’s important in a promotion is that there is something immediate in it for the students,’ says Kathryn Whalley, national manager for consumer markets at Toronto-based RBC. ‘Working in partnership with other databases gives us a definite advantage.’ Through the AOL partnership, for example, Royal Bank offers a $100 rebate to any RBC student banking account with the purchase of one year’s AOL Internet access.

Also pushing financial services, Toronto-based youth marketing company Clegg Campus Marketing distributes more than three million CrediKit applications to students per year, offering six credit cards on one application.

Clegg, which has been operating since 1966, is now active on more than 140 post secondary campuses across Canada, offering services for more than 40 clients, including General Motors, Hakim Optical, Imperial Oil, KFC/Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Sony Music and Bank of Montreal.

Other services include the Grab-it Co-op Envelope program, through which clients use small envelopes to distribute coupons, contest offers, product samples and promotional literature. The envelopes are distributed twice yearly at bookstores and other high-traffic areas within the campuses.

Clegg also offers Internet advertising via its Web site,, and a range of billboard, print advertising and direct mail services.

‘Every marketer should be targeting the student demographic, because they are the spenders of the future,’ says Bill Saad, EVP at Clegg. Marketers may not necessarily experience a huge sales boost immediately, Saad says, but they can guarantee that they’re forging valuable relationships for the future. Moreover, while the traditional student struggles to make ends meet, more and more students today do have a valuable disposable income which marketers can exploit. ‘A lot of students have part-time jobs, student loans or parental contributions, so they do have buying power,’ Saad says.

Another sector renowned for targeting the student demo is the IT industry. IBM Canada’s approach is to form partnerships with retailers that have on-campus stores. ‘We often help the resellers by designing an ad or template for them which features IBM and promotes our products,’ says Susan Taylor, marketing manager at Markham, Ont.-based IBM Canada.

In recent years many post-secondary institutions have become eager to incorporate technology into their curriculum, so IBM takes advantage of the opportunity to promote its notebook computer line directly to students through on-campus demonstration days.

In any kind of on-campus event program, the trick is to come up with a game plan that meets the needs of the advertiser without triggering the marketing-B.S. radar of the savvy student body. ‘We always have to keep in mind the kinds of things that push students away,’ says Adam Starr, president of Montreal-based youth marketing company Gearwerx Content Networks. ‘Anything which looks as though we’re trying to buy them should be avoided – Canadian students are very sensitive to that kind of thing.

‘Generic booth presentation doesn’t work either. You need to pull students into the ambience, rather than try and push them in from behind.’

Starr says the key is to spend some time getting to know and understand what makes students tick, and design a promotion that’s tailored to their needs. Gearwerx, which organizes around 100 campus events annually, uses a network of 120 reps across the country, who actively survey students for information about what’s going on in their lives. ‘This makes us very in-tune with their culture, trends and desires,’ he says.

One of Gearwerx’s efforts, which took place at 15 campuses across Canada this fall, involved live DJ concerts designed to promote Fido’s text-messaging service. During the concerts on-stage models wore T-shirts bearing cell-phone numbers. Students were invited to text a pick-up line to the model of their choice, and the best lines won their authors a limo-driven date with the model. Around 450 text messages were sent at each concert.

Some marketers turn to the tried and true with a twist to boost brand awareness. For example, Toronto-based tire manufacturer Goodyear recently held a novel endurance contest for students from nine universities across Canada.

The Goodyear Hands of Fans contest, also organized by Gearwerx, challenged students to stand with one hand on a Zamboni ice resurfacing machine for as long as they could in a bid to win a $5,000 tuition scholarship and $5,000 for their university’s athletics program. The winner lasted almost 52 hours.

Retailers and financial companies are not the only ones to sell their wares on-campus. Some campus advertising aims to lure the best and brightest into a certain business sector that’s suffering from a lack of qualified workers, such as, say, marketing. To that end, the Institute of Canadian Advertising (ICA) has adopted a new on-campus approach to entice graduates into the advertising world.

Large pop cans are erected in high traffic areas to lead students to the new Web site,, and to notify them of upcoming campus visits by industry leaders. The Web site, created by Toronto’s Taxi, is designed to communicate the excitement of being part of the ad world and provide information about the industry. Presentations by industry leaders took place at four universities during October and November.

In the end, campuses are the one place, if anywhere, begging for interactive, clever and edgy. Never underestimate students, who are after all, smarter than your average consumer, and never forget that they know they’re being marketed to.

‘Students are a very tough market to reach, because they are smart and skeptical, and they hate the idea of being bought with blatant advertising, but if you approach them in the right way, the marketing opportunities are huge,’ says Starr.