9 Reasons Advertisements Don’t Attract College Students

study breaks, magazine printing, college marketing, marketing to college students


For business owners invested in the college demographic, staying relevant in a constantly shifting market can be difficult, and often marketers turn to advertising to expand their reach and communicate with their target audience. But in an environment where the demographic is easily distracted and constantly being captivated by “the next big thing”—and in a digital age in which marketers are promoting their message through a multitude of platforms—how do business owners know if their ad dollars are well spent?

Here Study Breaks College Media presents businesses with a list of reasons that their ad isn’t working and advice for how they can begin reinventing their advertising campaign (or even overall brand) to attract college students.

1. The Ad design didn’t drive students to your website and/or social media platforms

Every advertiser should enter their campaign with an end-goal in mind. For most small business owners, tangible trackers such as hits, “likes,” follows, email addresses, social media engagement and (hopefully) a boost in SEO are key signs of a successful campaign.

Without an ad designed to drive students towards these trackable systems, marketers are forced to look at overall sales as the deciding factor of campaign progress and miss out on data that could be used to boost revenue and ultimately lead to a higher ROI.

2. The ad didn’t follow the golden rule: be simple and cool

Today’s students are used to technology developing systems that make life easier. The same principle rings true with college-based advertising. Students don’t want an advertisement cluttered with “bells and whistles” that they have to figure out, but they also don’t want to be bored. Advertisers should work to create a campaign that’s not only simple and clear but also attention-grabbing and interesting.

3. The ad lacked a call to action

An ad without a well-defined call to action is like a sales pitch without a closing question. Even if the viewer likes the ad, if they are confused on what to do next, then the opportunity is wasted. It’s important to define a call to action early in the ad creation process.

Here are five examples of calls to action that create a sense of urgency, motivating students to act now…

  •  Get this FREE on our website today.  There are only 25 left!
  •  Money-Back Guarantee. No Questions Asked.
  •  Get It Now!
  •  Order Now and Receive a Free _______!
  •  Call Today!

4. The ad didn’t answer this question: “What’s in it for me?”

Students are inherently selfish. If one is trying to capture some dollars from their limited budgets, it’s best to play to a level of personability. Make it a rule to be as clear as possible with students about what’s in it for them.

Hint: Doing something as simple as including the word YOU in the headline will increase your response. 

5. The ad didn’t push any buttons

A call to action involves adding a phrase to one’s advertising that builds a sense of urgency. Pushing a viewer’s buttons is playing on the ideas that cause movement within the viewer.

Hint: It’s likely that unsuccessful ads were talking at students instead of with them. It’s important to understand college students and what makes them tick internally.

6. The ad was assumed to be a one-hit wonder

Few business owners actually enjoy spending a portion of their budget on advertising as, depending on the medium, some campaigns can prove costly for marketers (even those working within a local space). Less-developed marketers will often use price as an excuse to use advertising as a promotional “one hit wonder,” instead of continuing to deliver their message over and over, as they should.

It’s important to note that two of the most important aspects of advertising success are visibility and frequency. A general rule of thumb is that it will take at least three months of continuous advertising to get students to act on a new message, so it’s important to be patient.

7. The headline didn’t catch students’ interest or hold their attention.

The headline is the first wave of engagement in any advertisement. If one’s ad is proving a trackable dud, and it includes all other aspects of a successful ad, it’s likely that an ineffective headline is the cause.

When attempting to get the attention of college students in particular, it’s best to remember that some of the most effective strategies will either involve humor or walk the line between appropriate and inappropriate and be a little provocative. There’s a reason for the saying “sex sells,” and that is even more true when it comes to this demographic.

8. Photos didn’t match the message

If there is a disconnect between the images and the message, students will often immediately disregard the message (or won’t even bother to read the copy). This is a quick way to lose credibility with students.

9. The ad DID work, but poor tracking made it impossible to know

The only way to know for sure if advertising is effective or not is to place the message in a trackable system. (See tip #1.) Without a surefire way to track engagement, one will never know whether their advertising dollars are actually working or not. Of course, many business owners point to sales as the deciding factor. But without the use of a trackable system, one could argue that sales numbers—both positive and negative—are irrelevant considering the magnitude of the factors that contribute to a purchase, and how little information is available to analyze these factors. A tracking system is important, because if something is working for a company, they need to know so they can continue to do it.