What College Students Want Brands To Know About Video Content

The latest crop of college students – those in their late teens -- faces one of the toughest economic climates in recent history, compounded by rising tuition costs and bleak job prospects. Hard realities shape the outlook and values of this generation, and it is reflected in the video content they watch. After visiting with four students during last week’s panel discussion at OMMA Video in San Francisco, it is clear that they don’t have the time or patience to wade through advertising that doesn’t provide a distinct and practical benefit.  

Live From OMMA San Francisco

So how do brands build advocacy through video content? Mr Youth hosted a panel discussion with four San Francisco Bay Area students to get their candid and honest feedback on how they engage with video advertising. Watch the full conversation unfold here (Click to watch OMMA Video Panel Discussion), or continue reading for our observations and highlights from our student panelists.



While carrying a full course-load, students still manage to squeeze in plenty of video content each day across numerous devices and platforms. They don’t appear to be playing favorites among online sources, so long as the content is free. Pay-walls for exclusive content (Hulu Plus or Netflix) aren’t as big of an issue, given that the alternative is a costly cable package, which is resulting in nearly 86 percent of students preferring to take their viewership online (Mr Youth “Class of 2015” study, August 2011). According to our panelists, game consoles are replacing cable boxes, with all four panelists either owning or having access to one for the specific purpose of watching video content.

Daniel: “If I share something, I am putting my approval stamp on it, claiming that I approve of this message.”

When brands get the message right with this generation, the opportunities are endless.  Members of this generation admittedly share video advertising and other content daily across their social networks, with 70 percent actively seeking new sources of content via peer recommendations online (Mr Youth nationwide poll, October 2011). Our panelists recognize the power they have over brands through recommendations across their social graph.

You Have Five Seconds To Hook Them

Daniel: “I know if the ad is something I will continue watching within the first five seconds.”

A generation skeptical of advertising requires a straightforward approach to your marketing pitch. We do mean “pitch,” since our panelists suggest that the direct benefit of watching the advertisement must be communicated within the “first five seconds” or they will instantly tune out.

Still, they know video ads are a small price to pay for free content. Our panelists preferred pre-roll ads best, with the option to select between ads from the same brand. Consider this an opportunity to learn more about their preferences, while increasing the likelihood they will watch. And don’t even think about interrupting their viewing experience with a rollover or other non-linear variation--at best, they find these highly annoying and disruptive.

Be Entertaining, Up Front & On Brand

Monique: “If you are straight forward, clever & humorous, I am more likely to watch.”

The good news for marketers is that this generation is still very receptive to video advertising. Developing successful content requires paying attention to a basic formula that revealed itself through our panel conversations:

Clear Intention + Entertaining + Intelligent + On Brand = Successful Content

Our panelists view a clear distinction between ads that “try too hard” to be funny or entertaining, and ads that entertain while conveying a clear product benefit. They prefer the latter, and ask that video ads begin from a place of honest intentions (be straight forward about what you are selling, and keep the message on brand) while also making it entertaining.

Daniel: “I like it when a brand is able to make fun of itself & not take itself too seriously. It shows me that they get our generation.” 

None of our panelists felt it would harm a brand to crack a small joke about itself every once in a while. They expressed that “big brands take themselves too seriously,” and find brands more relatable when they are willing to poke fun at themselves.

Monika: “It is exhausting to watch a commercial that is pulling at your base emotions & over stimulus. We are rational people & would like to make rational decisions.”

For all of the reasons above, they love the recent Allstate “Mayhem” video campaign. The intention of the ad and benefit to the consumer are clear: Allstate Insurance will cover its customers against the inevitable “mayhem” that happens in everyday life. They appreciate the witty humor and candid nature of the pitch. In contrast, our panelists view advertising as misleading and deceptive when using too much “visual stimulus” as a way of pulling on their emotions. They appreciate advertising that treats them as intelligent, rational decision-makers.

They Appreciate The Utility Of How-To Videos

Monique: “How-to videos make things functional & relevant to our lives. If you could inject a product into a video while showing me how to use it, I would totally watch it.”

This generation is resourceful and willing to roll-up its sleeves to solve every day problems. How-to videos provide brands with the perfect opportunity to sell-through education, demonstrating the unique benefits of the product while helping the consumer complete a specific task. All four panelists seemed to enjoy these videos and reinforced the value they provide. They also mentioned that they would be very likely to remember the products demonstrated while watching.

They Get Behind Brands With Similar Ideals

Monika: “Brands needs to communicate a bigger ideal to be remembered, more so than any image or name. When I find a video, I want to understand the POV of the person (or brand) that is producing it.”

Genuine advocacy requires more than just creating funny content and hoping that it goes viral. Brand advocates want to know the purpose behind the brand and its advertisements. They want the “POV” of the content curator, whether it is a famous Indie film director, or Annie’s Mac ‘N’ Cheese. They are likely to share commercials that convey important messages, or are attached to a social movement or cause they care about. Our panelists actively research brands and products (ingredients especially) when considering a purchase. Ensure that they find all the right answers when they look it up online.

Final Thoughts

While our panel consisted of only four students from the San Francisco Bay Area, they did reflect many of the same views as the college students we spoke with over the summer in a larger, nationwide study on the college freshmen “Class of 2015,” (Read our study on “5 Ways To Friend The Class Of 2015” at: Our panelists desire straightforward video ads that provide a benefit for watching and a clear product benefit from which they can make rational judgments. Tie your message to a bigger purpose or ideal, and they will reward you--not only with their attention, but also through their online sharing and endorsement.

Next story loading loading..