Data released yesterday from the Alloy Media + Marketing's 2006 College Explorer Study, in tandem with Harris Interactive, shows that 2006's campus class is the largest in history, at 17.4 million. It also carries a record number of gadgets to keep students connected in dorms, classrooms and commons.
"When a marketer is looking at a college student, looking at someone who is constantly connected, they seeing someone to whom traditional media platforms are less and less relevant," says Samantha Skey, svp of Strategic Marketing for Alloy.
Students are spending 11 hours every day engaged with media, the study reveals, and are increasingly mobile. A full 50 percent of college students arrive at school with a laptop, indicating both the increased availability of wireless connectivity--blanket coverage is now available on 29 percent of the nation's campuses--and the diminished role of desktop computers.
In addition to media time, students spent 3.5 hours a day emailing, instant messaging and Web surfing. Plus, social-networking takes up a significant amount of time; 18- to-24-year-old students spend an average of 6.5 hours a week on these sites, according to the report.
"Today's students are always on, and brands need to act the same way," says Clint Runge, creative director at youth-branding agency Archrival in Lincoln, Nebraska. "Just having a Web site and tweaking it from time to time isn't enough anymore. You need to be live all the time. A constant stream of brand-generated content, like this new BudTV for example, is exactly the way to go."
Michael Bloxam--director of insight and research at Indiana's Ball State University, which last fall topped Intel's list of "Most Unwired College Campuses"--says this generation of students has more control over their media exposure. As young consumers experience increased interactivity, they will flaunt their power.
"[Brands] will have more contact points with consumers, but it will become increasingly complex to navigate those points," he says. Ubiquitous connectivity in wireless environments invites marketing that may be seen as a gross intrusion. "They could punish the brands, by keeping them at bay."
Finally, 64 percent of colleges say plans are in the works for blanket wireless coverage. That figure will grow to nearly 100 percent, Runge suggests, as soon as all colleges realize it is a huge marketing point to potential students.
"It's becoming a selling point for schools," says Runge. "Any high schooler who is online all the time with their friends at home isn't going to want to go to college and feel they're taking a step back technologically."
The study was conducted online among 1,793 adults and has a sampling error of +/-3.