Advertising noise over the clearing period.
Imagine you are 16, you’ve just finished your GCSEs and it seems like nearly everyone you know is asking you about what you want to do when you grow up. Your teachers are suggesting one thing and your parents are suggesting another. You have no idea what you want to do, but know you would probably like to go to university or college and you know what subjects you enjoy most.
A Google search and a bit of research into the courses available to you ends with ads following you around the Internet and you start to notice the tube and underground advertisements for universities and colleges. The problem… you are just as lost as you were before you started doing research and thinking about what you want to do.
All the advertisements you see say the same things: your future starts here, find your potential, follow your passion. What does all of that even mean? I don’t know what my future is, I don’t know what my passion is and I don’t know if I want to find my potential at your institute. Further to them all saying the same thing they all look the same. All the advertisements have a few students on a college campus smiling and loving life. Is that really what university is like? None of this is helping me to decipher what university I want to go to and what I want to study.
Having heard this feedback from students and conducted our own audit of advertising noise over the clearing period, Hunterlodge has uncovered a startling truth: in trying to attract prospects with stand-out propositions through their advertising, HE institutions have collectively served only to create an impenetrable wall of noise, creating confusion among prospects rather than clarity.
There is more competition than ever with university places becoming more accessible and uncapped. This means that it is a buyer’s market, with supply considerably out weighing demand. The students are in the driving seat. Which has led to more and more institutions trying to shout louder in terms of media to get noticed. What we see as alarming is messaging and creative treatments of the advertising all merging into one. The higher education ‘Wall of Noise’ is more impenetrable than ever at the moment.
Kim McLellan, Managing Director at Hunterlodge, points to a completely different sector to bring the issue to life: that of washing powder.
“If all washing powder brands used the strap line, ‘whiter than white’ – we would default to Persil, because it is the most well known brand. This rings true in the higher education sector. Students are defaulting to the better-known brands because they can’t decipher the messaging and it’s easier to go with something you know than risk the unknown.”
Thinking about this Wall of Noise it prompted us to look further a field and at examples of brands who do stand out and differentiate themselves well. Which has landed us in America with the University of Phoenix. They understand that exactly who their target market is and they know they are people who are looking to change their path in life. They are mostly non-traditional students who are working full time and have a family. They have managed to use their own students and case studies in their advertisement, but communicate it in an authentic and engaging way. Here is an example of their recent advertising.
As advertisers our job is to ensure that we are communicating a USP or a unique proposition to the target audience at the right time, in the right place and with the right message.
The winners in the higher education sector are the brave brands that get to know their consumer and want to stand for something, realising that it’s ok not to be a catch-all brand. We see this clearing period as a rallying cry from the consumer to all of us that work in education marketing to stand up and be marketers and communicate our point of difference.