Some Advice for Targeting College-Age Consumers

Alloy: Ultra-Relevant Messaging and Word-of-Mouth Key to Grabbing Demo's Attention

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In 2007, the number of college students aged 18 to 30 will be the largest in history, and the importance of understanding that generation's media habits, purchase behavior and thoughts on social and political issues is at an all-time high as well.
When it comes to advertising, for example, college students are just as much about viral marketing as they are about keeping it verbal.
When it comes to advertising, for example, college students are just as much about viral marketing as they are about keeping it verbal.

Alloy Media & Marketing's seventh annual Alloy College Explorer, conducted with Harris Interactive, sheds some intriguing light on a demo often referred to as "elusive" or "cynical," two characterizations that Alloy's Samantha Skey doesn't necessarily find accurate.

Not cynical
"I often hear when I'm on panels, 'How do you engage this cynical consumer?' But they're not by any meaningful measure," said Ms. Skey, Alloy's exec VP-strategic marketing. "They're a savvy consumer. If advertising's relevant and relevance to them would be defined as really targeted, it's much more likely you need to cut through all the noise."

The demo's fondness for the niches of cable TV and the web has made such targeted relevance easier, Ms. Skey added, as has Nielsen's measurement of TV viewing on college campuses last spring. "A lot of knowledge has come through so it's easier than last year."

When it comes to advertising, for example, students are just as much about viral marketing as they are about keeping it verbal. Two-thirds of students said they learn about new brands, products and services they would like to purchase from friends, with 61% citing word-of-mouth as their preferred method of communication. That's up considerably from 2004, when 48% said they prefer word-of-mouth advertising. Of the brands most important for students to share with their friends, movies and electronics are the two key categories, with 60% citing movies and 48% citing electronics, respectively.

Not perceived as advertising
"Word-of-mouth is possibly seeing more strength in the advertising category [because] it's not perceived by most college students to be an advertising platform or a marketing tactic," Ms. Skey said. "It's just an information source or a social media of sorts."

As a result, social-networking patterns have changed in the last three years as well among the college demo. Ms. Skey said students are maintaining fewer personal profiles across the many social-networking options (down from an average of 17 in 2004 to 7 in 2007), but keeping more friends on average in less places. Essentially, they've already gone to the trouble of aggregating their potential audience reach for marketers hoping to reach them on MySpace and Facebook.

"Students show an increasing utility to them connecting with each other," Ms. Skey said. "They have more power and have more intimacies that they're managing, and are using more authoring tools. Anything to create content. They've gone deeper into their profiles and are a little more focused. It's a really great platform for advertising."
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