Striking The Right Tone With College Students Is An Art Form

Just this week, we announced the winner of our third annual youth marketing case study competition, the GennY Award, which went to Kellogg for its “Eat. Share. Prosper.” campaign targeting college students with a one-to-one social giving initiative. Finalists included Wattpad and Sony Music Canada for the “What Makes You Beautiful” transmedia fan fiction campaign introducing One Direction to North American audiences; Alloy Media + Marketing and Puma for the "My Day My Life" video campaign focused on women’s soccer; Barnes & Noble College Marketing and Norton Symantec for its multifaceted “Allow/Deny” campaign; and Campus Solutions and Summer’s Eve for the "ID the V" campaign leveraging campus organizations and technology to deliver their message.



Looking at this year’s winner and finalists, it’s clear that marketing has evolved. As the number of media channels has grown, Millennials’ free time has shrunk. They have the choice to engage with marketing and advertising efforts — they can skip TV commercials, ignore online ads, choose to follow brands on Facebook or Twitter… To get them to pay attention to brands and marketing, they need to see a purpose, a payoff. Companies need a deep understanding of Millennials, knowing what matters to them to recognize which buttons to push in marketing. 

Kellogg understood that a one-to-one campaign would resonate with Millennials because they care about being socially responsible, but it also understood that for harried college students, it needed to make the campaign easy and inexpensive for them to participate. The payoff was that each individual student could feel involved in doing something good for his or her community just by eating breakfast — for each bowl of cereal students ordered at dining halls, a bowl was donated to a local food bank.

Wattpad and Sony Music Canada understood that teen and tween girls want to feel as close as possible to their favorite bands, and that they like to connect with other fans in an almost tribal way thanks to social media. The “What Makes You Beautiful” campaign gave them yet another way to interact with the boys of One Direction through a fan fiction account of each band member, with the stories acting as a prologue to the video for their first single, “What Makes You Beautiful.” The payoff was bonus content — a gift that girls could also share with fans who are always hungry for more from their favorite band.

Barnes & Noble College Marketing made it fun for students to think about the rather mundane concept of cyber security. There’s no question that humor captures the attention of young people, but striking the right tone with college students is an art form. The “Allow/Deny” campaign blended clever online videos and campus events with just the right level of cheek. “Allow/Deny” door hangers for their dorm rooms were funny and functional, and meant that the campaign would stay with students after they’d signed offline or left a campus event. The payoff was entertainment in multiple forms that students could take to the next level through their own creativity (we’re sure those door hangers lead to some classic jokes). 

In an era when young people can choose to pay attention to brands and marketing, they expect a reward when they give a company their time. And when they get that payoff, they’ll reward brands in turn, not only with their positive opinion, but also spreading the message among their friends.

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