College students are a diverse set of consumers many brands want to engage, particularly those on campus, but in order to stand out marketers have to go beyond promotional programs to make brands relevant.
Windsor Hanger, president of Her Campus, an online community for female college students, says the biggest challenge is breaking through the noise.
"College students get messaging so often," she explains. "[Messaging] is on Facebook, Twitter, banner ads on every site they visit, pop-up ads, radio, students passing out products on campus, and on T-shirts."
Her Campus believes college students are talented and underutilized, which is why it hires students as aspiring journalists, PR professionals, and marketers to work with clients and build case studies. Hanger says offering students a "truly meaningful marketing experience they can talk about in a job interview" is more beneficial than bringing them on as brand ambassadors to pass out products.
Last fall, Her Campus launched College Fashion Week 2012 in partnership with Kimberly Clark's U by Kotex brand.The program included fashion events in Boston; Ann Arbor, MI; Raleigh, NC; and Santa Barbara, CA, and to raise awareness, Her Campus selected students to take photos, write stories, and post content in real time on social media.
Last year, Her Campus worked with Unreal Candy, a company created by the 13-year-old son of Michael Bronner, founder and former CEO of Digitas, to raise awareness of the brand on campuses in New England.
Windsor Hanger, president of Her Campus, says handing out pamphlets is ineffective, so the company got students to give out the candy on campus.
The line now counts football player Tom Brady and actor Matt Damon as brand ambassadors.
Hanger says the new initiative, which is expanding to include a four-city fall and two-city spring tour in 2013, is a great opportunity for brands to "showcase themselves in a new light and create amazing experiences for college students."
Women's nutrition snack Luna Bar, created by Clif Bar, worked with Her Campus during the shows to give students survival kits that included bars and personal care items.
"It's a great way to keep the brand new, fresh, and hip," explains Hazel Dagala, Clif Bar's women's experience coordinator.
Connecting with college women now will create loyal consumers in the future, she adds.
Last year, Unilever's Axe brand of men's grooming products launched an edgy water conservation program called Showerpooling, encouraging students to shower with other people.
More recently, Axe launched its Axe Apollo Space Academy in January, promoting its new line of Apollo products and giving 22 girls and guys the chance to enter space. To recruit students, Christine Cea, Unilever's marketing communications director, says the brand is sending astronauts to speak on campus.
Next big thing
All-natural potato chip company Popchips also reaches students through strategic samplings during move-in weekend, midterms, and finals, as well as student brand ambassador programs and events, says Michael Parisi, VP of field marketing.
He explains that college consumers are always "looking for the next big thing" and tend to "have a short attention span," which is why it's important for Popchips to promote new products and loyalty programs.
ONCampus Media, a digital media company on nearly 400 campuses, partnered with Barnes & Noble College Marketing, a division of Barnes & Noble College, in fall 2012 to display content in college bookstores.
"Our ultimate goal is to create a digital medium that is specifically tailored to college students," explains Scott Krantz, president of the company.
Mobile is going to be the next big push - the company is developing college-specific ONCampus Media apps so content is more focused. The organization will work with college media departments in 2013 to allow students to create their own content for in-store screens.