Billboard Advertising for Universities – Top Tips

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In many ways, universities in the UK face a number of difficult challenges in the current economic climate.

Not only has the number of students fallen in recent times, but rising tuition fees have also deterred potential graduates and encouraged them to pursue an alternative course.

With fewer students to target, leading universities throughout the UK are being forced to compete more aggressively for the best talent. 

Outside and roadside advertising offers them an excellent opportunity to achieve this, particularly when it comes to targeting the future student intake directly.

Why outdoor advertising is ideal for reaching students

There are a number of advantages that it offers to universities, beyond the sheer size, scope and versatility of the billboard medium. 

Here are some of the most prominent benefits:

Billboards are a constant and immovable medium

Rather like social and digital outlets, billboards offer a constant and immovable advertising medium.

While promotional brochures are easy to discard and expensive television adverts can be switched off in mid-flow, billboards and roadside slots can be secured for as long as your budget allows and display your message prominently.

This makes it easier to reinforce your message and engage audiences on a deeper level.

Billboards target students while they are on the move

As a general rule, young adults are spending more and more time out of the home. 

This is linked to the fact that Millennials currently have more buying power than any other demographic, enabling the next generation of students to invest in their favourite recreational pastimes.

Billboards are therefore the best medium for targeting this demographic, as they can capture their attention while they are on their travels.

Billboards make use of unconventional advertising space

Perhaps the greatest advantage of billboards is that they enable marketers to leverage unconventional spaces, such as the sides of buildings and sparse roadsides.

Universities are ideally placed to take advantage of this, as they usually consist of several large buildings and towering walls that offer free-to-access advertising space.

This reduces costs while optimising reach, so it is well worth consideration when targeting students.

Why is OOH advertising so effective with students? 

One of the reasons is the genuine level of apathy that exists towards online advertising in the modern age, particularly among younger consumers and the increasingly influential Millennial demographic.

According to data from Anatomy Media, most Millennial Internet users have installed an online ad-blocker on at least one of their devices.

After surveying 2,700 adults aged between 18 and 24, they found that 46% of respondents used an ad-blocker on their desktop device, with a further 31% installing one on their smartphone or tablet. 

While just 14% blocked ads on both devices, this had more to do with how respondents consumed online data and their unique behaviours (rather than a preference for browsing adverts on one device over another).

This is a trend that remains prevalent across the global market, as Millennials and students have become increasingly reluctant to engage with online adverts.

Much of this has to do with the way in which the Internet has become saturated with online ads, making it more difficult for brand messages and identities to engage potential customers. 

Similarly, the often-intrusive and unsolicited nature of online ads has bred apathy in some, while also creating a genuine sense of cynicism.

In contrast, OOH adverts have the capacity to blend into their environment, creating a far more natural and engaging proposition for younger target audiences.

When supplemented with honest and heartfelt messaging, this can create a winning combination that allows universities to engage students on an emotive level.

The University of San Francisco have embodied this principle, while using OOH to exemplary effect. 

After recognising that their establishment lacked the prestige and the resources of established rivals like Stanford and Harvard, they embarked on a stripped back billboard campaign that relied on effective targeting and earnest messaging. 

This involved deploying large billboards with slogans like “Learn to run a multinational corporation and still go to heaven,” and “There is no moral compass app” established a striking proposition that would resonate with the current generation of students.

This not only tapped into the growing apathy towards online ads and cynical marketing practices, but it also drove a 12% increase in unaided awareness and boosted the universities engagement levels through social media.

This unique marriage of medium and message is also exceptionally effective at targeting parents, who tend to respond well to traditional advertising techniques and concise messaging that has a serious tone.

When you consider the role that some parents play in vetting universities for their children, this represents a huge benefit that can be accessed through OOH.

Above all else, it also highlighted how OOH advertising can leverage precise student behaviours and prevalent trends to engage students and boost conversions for universities.

How can universities utilise billboard advertising?

While the appeal of outdoor advertising is relatively easy to understand, however, universities will need to think long and hard about how to best utilise this channel.

With this in mind, here are some tips on how to leverage outdoor advertising and create a compelling campaign that successfully targets students:

Timing is everything when targeting students

When creating a billboard campaign to target students, timing is one of the most important considerations.

Clearly you will need to scale your advertising efforts during enrollment programs, as this allows you to include a call to action that can drive an instant response.

If you want to steal a march on competing universities, however, you should also strive to maintain an outdoor advertising presence during alternative times of the year.

It makes perfect sense to target undecided students in the weeks prior to enrollment, for example, while advertising during term time also offers you access to a larger and more mobile audience.

Regardless of this, however, be sure to invest the majority of your budget shortly before and during enrollment periods when students are at their most engaged.

Remember the importance of location

While we have talked about using buildings to advertise a specific university, choosing the right location for your billboard is an important factor that demands in-depth consideration.

If you want to engage new students who are looking to commence their higher education, for example, you will need to extend your reach by targeting busy roadsides and bus routes.

It is therefore important to consider the location of your university and its surrounding transport links, as you look to target the busiest roads and areas with the highest footfall.

You should also pay particular attention to bus routes, as this will help you to successfully engage freshers and students who are currently completing their A-levels.

Bold, bright and clever adverts work

When dealing with the billboard medium, it is important to create a striking advert that makes the most of a prominent location.

We’ve talked before about the best practices to create a visually stunning billboard.

Bold and bright adverts tend to result in big impact, with the use of vibrant colours ideal for capturing the attention of passers-by, bus passengers and motorists.

While the creation of bold and striking outdoor adverts will instantly engage your audience, however, you will also need to ensure that the material has greater depth and meaning.

There is nothing wrong with leveraging a clever message or selling point, for example, as this creates a value proposition that can direct the attention that your advert generates.

So if your university has set a renowned standard of excellence within a particular field or subject, do not be afraid to advertise this and effectively target a specific group of students.

Use the right language to advertise your message

While the cultivation of a concise and suitable message is key, the way in which you deliver this through your billboard is equally important.

You must pay particular attention to the tone of your message and each individual word that you use, as both of these factors will dictate how your advert is perceived by a wider audience.

In general terms, it is best to adopt a serious and concise tone when advertising a specific university or course of learning.

This will enable students to absorb the gravity and the exact message that you are looking to impart, rather than confusing them with misplaced humour or convoluted text.

On a similar note, you should also strive to keep the number of words to a minimum while ensuring that your message is framed by perfect spelling and grammar.

Do not forget to target parents

When you focus on creating a professional and serious outdoor advert, you are also creating material that can effectively target parents.

After all, these individuals have a huge stake in the future of their children, and are more likely to consider their higher education and choice of university as a long-term investment

In some instances, students will rely heavily on the opinion of their parents in order to make a final decision.

This means that it is imperative to leverage outdoor advertising to communicate with parents, whether you create a series of separate posts targeting alternative demographics or adopt your tone and content to successfully engage both.

Either way, creating adverts that appeal to parents can create a far higher success rate for your campaign.

The Last Word

Make no mistake; while OOH advertising has always offered natural advantages to universities (such as reach and cost-effectiveness), this practice is now more impactful than ever before. 

This is thanks largely to the prevailing behaviours and attitudes of Millennials and students, who, unlike baby boomers, understand modern technology and are increasingly resistant to online advertising and therefore, constantly on the move during the course of the day.

These trends and behaviours are only going to become more prominent in the years to come, so now is the ideal time to change your approach to OOH and increase your spend. 

This will prove crucial, especially if you are to effectively target the most talented students in an increasingly competitive market.

Book your billboard today.
Book your billboard today.

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