It occurred to me this week that there’s little that polarises views amongst university marketing professionals as much as Out of Home (OOH) advertising. It seems that it is either a critical part of a student recruitment strategy or completely frowned upon, with few ambivalent feelings in-between.
In the big scheme of things, it’s probably not that critical, I will admit. But it can take a big chunk of your budget and it tends to get noticed by colleagues and competitors alike, so it’s worth reflecting on the extent to which it should be included in your marketing plans and how best to make sure your money isn’t wasted.
Here are our top ten tips to get the most out of your OOH campaigns (just like this company did!):
- Use it strategically against other universities. There’s nothing that riles competitors more than one of your adverts on a bus stop next to their campus, your branded taxi parked outside their Senate House or a take-over of all the available sites at the train station when your neighbour has their open day next week. It’s the epitome of parking your tanks on someone else’s lawn and it will bring you and your Senior Management Team much joy, I promise.
- Go large or go home. Whilst an individual outdoor site isn’t necessarily expensive, for a campaign to be effective, you generally need multiple sites. Unless you are running hyper-local activity, then a mid or heavy-weight campaign is essential to increase visibility and brand recall.
- Some say OOH is a waste of money because you can’t track it. True, it is almost impossible to get accurate data on the immediate ROI. But this doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. Outdoor is generally all about branding, not direct calls to action. It’s an opportunity to articulate your brand values and proposition, and so measuring the impact requires a different set of metrics.
- OOH concepts need imagination. It requires investment in a creative and bold campaign that can stand out. For universities, this generally means taking a step away from higher education advertising norms and drawing inspiration from commercial and youth brands. But beware – your adverts need to be tested with your target audiences for relevance, understanding and yes, even legibility.
- Go digital and use dynamic content. It’s possible to build in data feeds, video or factors such as traffic, the weather or time of day to personalise your messages. And the combination of OOH and mobile advertising working together is a powerful one – your adverts can be served to a 17-year old walking past one of your outdoor adverts to increase visibility and brand recall. It also means you can include a call-to-action on the mobile if you really must (see No.3).
- Consider all formats.For example, I think cinema advertising is often overlooked. It’s ideal for targeting by demographic and location, but more importantly, you have the sole attention of the audience. We are all familiar with ‘multi-screen’ behaviour, dividing our attention between more than one device for most of our waking hours. But a cinema audience has (mostly) put their mobile phones away, so you have their undivided attention. However, remember that cinema advertising is all about branding, so if you must advertise your Open Day, don’t fall for the temptation to include a ‘book now’ call to action (please).
- Involve your audiences. OOH can also be experiential. This could be a takeover of the local shopping centre to raise the profile of the University amongst the wider community – either to recruit staff or students, or to even share the great impacts from your research with the rest of the city. Whatever the content, it’s an opportunity to have a conversation, listen to others and show your transparency, involvement in local issues and contribution to the local community.
- Go multi-channel. All the evidence suggests that brand metrics increase significantly from a multi-channel campaign that mixes OOH formats with digital and social. It delivers a higher chance of recall and impacts positively on awareness and emotional response. Also, one advert in one place is unlikely to result in a consumer action; but multiple views of the same campaign significantly increases the chances of a response.
- Use it politically. I hate to include this as a top tip, but we all know that an OOH campaign gets noticed by internal influencers. So if you are putting together a business case for an increased marketing budget, then run a small but strategic outdoor campaign which results in your internal stakeholders driving past one of your roadside 48-sheet adverts on their way to work. They’ll love the visibility and confidence that it shows and want to you to do more of the same. Guaranteed.
- Go where your audiences are. The variety of OOH opportunities gives you great targeting options. Teenagers are less likely to be on the Tube, but might be mooching around at a bus stop or outside Primark in the shopping centre. And personally, I think ‘washroom’ panels are very effective – long dwell times and gender targeting – but alas, I haven’t yet managed to persuade a University that their brand needs to be in the toilet. (I’m still working on it, watch this space.)
Rachel Killian is a Senior Consultant for Halpin Partnership – the home of experts in marketing, governance, fundraising and strategy in higher education.