The Best Ways to Advertise on College Campuses


As a market, college campuses are unique. They are filled with people from a very specific demographic — mostly aged 18 to 22. They are places where people are naturally inquisitive and high-energy. They are often on the cutting edge of style, and they are designed to prepare future thought leaders for the challenges ahead.

To put it another way, remember that Facebook was created by a college student, on campus, for other students. When you seek to advertise to college students, these are the types of people you are trying to reach.

20 million students

Additionally, it’s a sizable market. According to the U.S. Department of Education, around 20 million students were enrolled in college in 2015 within the United States. This demographic continues to grow, as the number of 18-to-24-year-olds in the United States grew from around 27 million to over 31 million between 2000 and 2013. As this number continues to grow, so too will the population on college campuses.

As you seek to reach this growing market, how then should you advertise on a college campus?

As a business that specializes in complete promotional solutions, we have years of experience creating both indoor and outdoor advertising, with solutions designed to promote campus events along with trade show tents, interactive media displays, banners and flags — all perfectly suited for reaching a young college audience.

Therefore, we’re excited to present our expert how-to guide to advertising on college campuses. Throughout this guide, we will discuss the various ways you can target your message to the college-aged customer. In doing so, we are confident you’ll see immediate results and unrivaled customer engagement, translating to an excellent return on investment.

Without any further ado, here are our pro-tips for college campus advertising!


Before the “Dos,” Here Are the “Don’ts”

To help put the best college advertising practices into focus, let’s start with why traditional advertising approaches don’t work. Remember: College students are unlike any other demographic, so while these “don’ts” may be “do’s” in other contexts, when you’re on campus, these approaches will only amount to a waste of time and money.


Don’t Advertise on TV

There are two important reasons why TV is a bad approach for reaching college students.

First of all, students simply don’t watch a ton of TV, as they don’t have a lot of free time. During football season, when most Americans are watching their favorite collegiate team on TV, they’re actually at the game. On weeknights, when most Americans are relaxing at home after a long day at work, students are usually either out experiencing the robust social life that thrives on campuses or they’re at the library studying.

Second, when students do watch TV, it’s much more likely to be on a streaming service, meaning they’re intentionally subscribing to a television watching experience that is free from advertising.

don't advertise on tv

So don’t waste your money on a well-produced television commercial if you’re looking for college-aged engagement. Even a Super Bowl-worthy ad will probably go unnoticed.


Don’t Buy Ads in the School Paper

Unfortunately, the lack of readership is the school paper’s dirty secret. While school papers may be a great training ground for the next generation of journalists, the paper isn’t getting read by many students. Also good to keep in mind: College students already have a ton of reading that has been assigned to them by overzealous professors.

In short, they simply don’t have the free time to read articles about current events on campus, especially when those events have already made their rounds on social media. If they aren’t reading the articles, they also won’t see the ad space you purchased.


Don’t Flyer the Bulletin Boards

no bulletin boards

Finally, don’t waste time hanging up flyers. This is a time-honored tradition on campuses, but because bulletin boards are so cluttered, they don’t give you much opportunity to stand out. The moment you hang your flyer, another person is just going to cover it up with their personal ad selling a stinky used sofa or inviting students to join the duct tape melee club. While flyering isn’t expensive, it’s definitely time-intensive. That time is best spent elsewhere.


The Best Approaches for Reaching College Students On Campus

Now that we’ve gotten the ineffective approaches out of the way, let’s turn to those things that do tend to work. College students have a lot going on, and they tend to have fleeting attention spans. That’s why it’s so important to give them a good hook and then find ways to keep them engaged. However, once you reach and engage with a student, you will have access to an enthusiastic spokesperson for your brand, so students are definitely worth the effort.

Therefore, here are our best words of advice for reaching students and keeping them engaged.


Be Bold

When you get on campus, you will be competing with a lot of other attention grabbers. The basketball team may have a big game coming up. A house may be throwing a big party. And don’t forget all the distractions that come from cute young men and women.

So if you’re going to set up on campus, be prepared to work hard to cut through the distractions. That means a single small flag — which could work for you elsewhere — may not stand out quite as much on campus.

Instead, go with big, strongly branded displays. A large banner would work well, but a full display tent or media display would work even better. You want your display to be bright, big and really grab a person’s attention. You are going to be reaching students running late to class or eager to get to the dining hall, so you can’t let them run by you without noticing.


Consider Your Placement

While you want your display to stand out, you also need to be wise about where you place it. If you’re investing in a single, staffed display, you want to make sure you’re placing it in a high-traffic area. The library and dining halls are great places to start, as this is where most students go at least once each day. If you’re anticipating a big event on campus, you can also set up outside of that event in order to get the attention of the crowds that are headed there.

However, keep in mind that college campuses also take safety very seriously, so you want to check with the college before setting up. Some campuses have regulations about where groups can set up their displays, and even if they don’t, campus safety and security will likely become suspicious if someone starts promoting unannounced. So, make sure you give them a heads up. An unwanted visit from campus safety probably won’t bring you the kind of attention you’re looking for!


If You Can, Staff Your Display

Students see lots of advertising and branding as they walk around campus. Remember: Even if they eat at the dining hall, they’re basically taking all of their meals at a restaurant, complete with branded soda fountains and the latest food products. When they go watch a game, sports branding is front and center. Everywhere they go, brands are on display.

Unfortunately, that means students also have lots of practice tuning out branding. After a while, they stop noticing the advertising that they pass every day. That means a passive display is unlikely to make an impact.

On the other hand, students are extremely social. While they may pass a display without giving it much thought, they are far less likely to pass a display where they have the opportunity for some personal interaction. In fact, a college student is far less shy than a typical customer, so by just providing one person to staff your display, your chances will increase exponentially.


Be Funny

Furthermore, when it comes to engaging with students, going the funny route will pay much better dividends. College students are on the cutting edge of humor, and they respond favorably to a well-delivered joke.

Depending on the nature of your company — and your ability to keep a straight face — don’t be afraid to be a little more daring with your humor. Remember, students are in the midst of their first taste of real independence. If you can deliver a good joke that their mom might not approve of, there’s a good chance you’ll grab their attention — and keep it.

Of course, you don’t want to go so far as to appear unprofessional, and you definitely want to avoid politics, but adding a little spice to your humor can go a long way.


But Also Be Authentic

That said, students are also really good a spotting a fake. They have little time for posers or anything that appears inauthentic. So, if you look like you’re trying too hard, they’ll see right through you.

So don’t be afraid to play to your strengths. If you’re advertising a product that, on the surface, may seem a little lame to the average student, take the opportunity to be self-deprecating. Once you’ve disarmed them with your self-awareness, roll into an explanation about why your product or service is actually great for the average student. They will be much more likely to trust a pitch from someone who gets why their product may seem unimpressive at first blush, rather than a person who oversells.


All College Students Love Free

The average college student doesn’t have much money. If they have a job, it’s likely part-time and low-paying. If they are lucky enough to have some money from their parents, it’s still most likely limited. Unsurprisingly, then, students love free stuff!

So think about incorporating a free giveaway, even if it’s a small branded item, into your display. If a student can get a free Frisbee by giving you a little bit of information, they are much more likely to take you up on the offer than the average customer.

Plus, you have another opportunity to grab their attention with your branding. If they are regularly taking notes in class with a cool pen with your brand on it, they will remain engaged with you far longer than if they simply passed by a banner on their way to class.


College Students Also Love the Latest Tech

students love tech

This obviously depends on your budget, but you can also grab a student’s attention with a good technologically enhanced display. If you present them with an opportunity to digitally interact with media, you’ll find they’re much more interested than if they saw the same media passively on display somewhere.

So if you really want a big return on investment, set up an interactive display that lets them explore your product or service tactilely.


Make It a Contest

College students also like to win. On game day, they want their school to beat their rival. And if they enter a contest, they would love the opportunity to come out on top — especially if it means beating their roommate!

Even something as simple as a raffle that requires contact information to enter is a great way to engage with students.


Incorporate Music

Students also love the latest music. They love a good, high-energy party atmosphere. So create your own, right in the middle of your display.

When you incorporate high-energy music, you also increase your range. Even if you’re around the corner and a walking student can’t see your display, they can hear that bass thumping. Inevitably, they will go out in search of the music and eventually find you!

However, keep in mind that a campus is ultimately (and ideally) a place where students are trying to learn. So, if you’re going to play loud music, check with the campus first to make sure you aren’t going to get shut down. There are usually plenty of good places where things can get loud without making any of the professors mad.


Reaching Students With APG Exhibits

So: You’ve decided to go big and put together an on-campus advertising display that really pops! Now you just need a partner to help turn your branded vision into reality!

Luckily for you, at APG Exhibits, we offer a wide range of display and exhibit design services that are perfect for engaging with young adults.

If you’re looking to go big, we offer a number of large-scale premium exhibits that are perfect for really grabbing a student’s attention with its bold and oversized presence! That being said, if a full-size exhibit doesn’t match your vision, our individual banners are designed to really stand out, and will still put considerable distance between you and the competition.

We also offer a number of outdoor-specific designs that will work perfectly if you’re placing your display in a heavy traffic area in the quad.

And if you want to incorporate multimedia into your display, we have a number of solutions that are easy to put together and hard to forget.

Finally, if you aren’t yet sure about what direction you want to go, we offer professional design services that will help you find your perfect display approach.

So, if you’re ready to start reaching the college-aged crowd, there’s no better place to start than APG Exhibits. Contact us today and get ready to engage with a whole new world of customers!

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