TV Advertising for Branding and Lead Generation in College Recruitment

Date posted: June 16, 2014

TV advertising higher education

TV advertising has a long-standing tradition in the higher education marketing space. Higher ed ads have evolved a lot over the years from being more branding oriented to the much more lead generation, direct response type, that we see today. The high end branding campaign commercial is still very much in vogue, as seen in this example from University of Michigan, which won a 2013 gold medal from EduAdAwards. Branding ads typically target individuals at the very top of the recruitment funnel, using inspirational and promotional content to invoke a strong positive impression towards the institution.

Although certainly not afraid to pull on the heartstrings, the for-profit college market has pioneered and developed more aggressive, direct response oriented, “get off the couch and call” type ads. These ads typically emphasize career and job prospects, playing a critical lead generation role in their institution’s marketing efforts. This example below, from Apollo owned Carrington College, also won a gold medal from the 2013 EduAdAwards, and nicely addresses both branding and direct response objectives.

In recent years the rise of digital video has stirred the mix of this landscape even more, enabling higher ed marketers to get into high quality ad production at very reasonable costs. The $200,000 ad agency created TV ad are still being made but freelance production costs have dramatically dropped budgets to as low as the $25-50,000 range for solid commercial work. The rise of content marketing, as in video content, has also expanded the range of work produced by institutions internally, from student video blogging to high end in-house video production of promotional, campus sports and other events.

So how does the traditional TV spot fit into today’s recruitment practices and norms?

Let’s start with an overview of all advertising dollars spent. The chart below provides an summary of higher ed marketing dollars spent in 2013 in the US. (Unfortunately PPC marketing is not included in these stats, so that skews thing a bit but even when factored in, TV advertising remains a very popular advertising strategy. ) In this analysis, TV and Cable TV advertising makes up a total of 42% of total spend. Marketers clearly remain in support of TV advertising as a preferred tactic to reach their marketing goals.

higher education advertisingSource: Educational Marketing Group

What are student’s perceptions of TV ads, as a channel to reach them?

In 2012, a Barnes and Noble College Marketing Group survey of students reported that their research indicated TV commercials were a very effective means to reach college students. Barnes and Noble marketing is different from your school’s recruitment marketing but it is a close cousin, with the same target audience, so this does give us some insight.

college student recruitmentSource: Barnes and Noble College Marketing Group

But we need to be careful with these assumptions as the effectiveness of TV will change as you break down your audience into more discreet segments. As seen in the table below, these surveyed Masters level students, see local TV advertising as the least effective of all marketing tactics and strategy. Interestingly enough, 43% of the institutions surveyed in the category responded that they were running TV ads. This is a pretty big disconnect so if you are a Masters level program marketer you might want to look closer into the effectiveness of your ads.

student recruitment strategy

Source: Noel Levitz

I suspect career college students would respond quite differently if asked the same questions but I don’t have that conclusion backed up with any specific data.

How is TV advertising regarded for general effectiveness by higher ed marketers?

In 2013, Noel Levitz surveyed and reported on the importance of TV advertising in higher ed marketing. At that time, both private and public 4 year institutions ranked television ads as 37th of 53 tactics, in their usage and effectiveness of the tactic. Two year public institution’s ranked them much higher at 9th of 50. I would suggest that this implies that TV is more effective for very targeted marketing in local catchment areas by more locally focused 2 year colleges. This makes sense to me given the typical targeting and reach of TV ads. Unfortunately in their 2014 follow-up report, Noel Levitz focuses more on E-recruitment. The efficacy of TV advertising did not make it into their survey report so we can’t compare.

Tracking of offline marketing activity like TV advertising can be done effectively, in a number of ways, using analytics. Approaches include:

–          Setting up a vanity URL specifically for your TV ad campaign, publishing it prominently within the ad to drive interested visitors to that site, and then tracking it in a Google Analytics account.

–          Use a custom URL, sub-domain or landing page similarly to above

–          Include a promo code in the ad and then ask visitors for it on your home page, linking to an exclusive landing page

–          Assign a unique 800 number to your TV ad and track it with Call tracking software.

–          Conduct simple before and after analysis on your TV landing pages, identifying traffic and conversion activity above your baseline during TV ad campaign periods

Regardless of which method is used, be sure to think your ad tracking approach through carefully so that your traffic, conversion and ROI results can be determined and used to inform your future TV advertising activities.

So what is your opinion on the effectiveness of TV advertising for lead generation. Do you currently use TV ads and do they get the intended results? Have some of your budget dollars for TV been moved over into digital? Is digital video also part of your longer term marketing mix?

Additional resources:

The 10 Most Creative College Commercials