Why I ...think we need to market cerebral sexiness

August 22, 2003

Peter Crofts, Head of marketing and student recruitment University of Glamorgan

Yes, it's clearing again, that time of year when marketing departments are in full swing trying to seduce the remaining students for 2003 entry.

But what do you make of this splurge of clearing advertising? Be honest now. Aren't you just a little bit tired of the endless stream of smiling faces leering at you from adverts across the land?

At the University of Glamorgan, I confess, we too have in the past done our fair share of "happy smiley" advertising. But this year we've decided to embark on something different - we've gone out on a limb by asking our prospective students to think.

Our whole marketing campaign is based on the idea that universities provide answers to questions and that education is the home of the inquisitive mind. It features intriguing banner headlines such as "Who put the @ in email?", "Why are Blue films blue?" and "How come hair of the dog cures a hangover?". The answers link directly to courses on offer.

The headlines prick the curiosity of the casual browser and offer them something of value - knowledge - in return for investing their time in reading further.

We are selling our prospective customers the idea of knowledge as currency - by reading the advert they will know something that their friends don't.

By investing their time in higher education they will gain an advantage in life. The thing that makes our adverts stand out from the others is what we can offer students - in a world of questions we can give them answers.

The key to the success of the campaign is that we've made sure the question-and-answer theme runs across all our communication, from our adverts and PR support to our website (where a 24-hour live chatroom allows potential students to ask any questions they like).

The stylisation is carried forward in our enrolment mailings and in our fresher literature, offering reassurance and recognition to those who were recruited via clearing.

We, like all universities, appreciate that we need to invest more of our time in creating integrated marketing campaigns. Look at our traditional target audience - was there ever a generation with more marketing savvy?

Our campaign aims to get our audience thinking, to snare those with the intellectual curiosity and inquisitiveness that's necessary to succeed at university. It is not enough to simply offer them a set of lifestyle images. They are bombarded with these on a daily basis and so are immune.

We are not selling them jeans or a holiday. We are offering them a serious life-altering decision. For this reason, one could argue that much university advertising on offer is bland and indistinguishable from last-minute holiday ads. I wonder just how effective such advertising is when it fails to stand out from everything else on offer? How many universities are tracking responses to assess whether their adverts give value for money?

We are all under pressure to recruit numbers, but there is perhaps more pressure to retain students and take them to completion. I believe that this second target - completion - and media awareness of our target audience will mean that we see a shift in marketing approaches and styles.

Our audiences know that a university campus isn't populated solely by confident, model-esque beauties (apart from Glamorgan's, naturally, which coincidentally has the current Miss Wales and FHM "student of the month"). We therefore need to establish a new "cerebral sexiness".

At Glamorgan, we will be looking to engage and excite the minds of our students and get their mental juices flowing. So if you want to see something different this year take a look at www.glam.ac.uk/clearing .

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