College students are the beloved entry consumer for brands. These eighteen to twenty-somethings are out on their own for the first time—ready to make buying decisions that could lead to a lifetime of brand loyalty.

But it’s been a rough couple years for advertising to students on campus. With schools across the country altering their re-opening plans seemingly minute-by-minute, brands have had similarly had to keep their foot between the brakes and the gas pedals on their on-campus marketing strategies.

We’re starting to see the dramatic turnaround for campus life. So with news like the University of California smashes record for first-year fall applications, is now the time to advertise to students on-campus in 2022?

The answer: YES. If you understand what influences the college consumer. We’ll tell you what we learned. 

But first, why should brands even advertise on-campus?

When teens leave their parents to go to college, college campuses quickly become their new homes, learning environments, and social world. College students are surrounded by like-minded peers, respected professors and mentors that influence students in a time when they are learning what they think, what they believe, and how they will navigate the world. The college campus is where young minds are shaped—and your brand needs to be a part of that. 

From our research and thirty years of on campus marketing experience, here’s our take on what the next year of on campus advertising will look like.

How COVID-19 impacted on-campus advertising

Next September, Charlotte will start at a large public university as a freshman—a year later than planned. She, like many others, chose to take a “gap year” until Fall 2022 because she wanted the on campus experience that is so important to students starting college for the first time. Now she finds herself in one of the largest new groups of students in years, all excited to finally be part of an in-person campus experience.

Many campuses are offering a mix of hybrid and in-person but students are back in the dorms and eager for social engagement. In fact, many students are even more excited to be on campus than pre-pandemic, wanting to engage in person rather than the purely digital world of the past two years.

The LA Times described tens of thousands of students “converging in concentrated locations from all over the state, nation and even the world. They are moving into tight dorm rooms and setting up apartments with new roommates. They’re sitting in classrooms, eating cafeteria-style, socializing and studying in the library.”

This upcoming fall, we expect that to be even bigger. Students are craving real-world experiences isolation in a solely digital landscape—and your brand can provide that connection, excitement, and discovery for them.

Why advertising on campus should be a key part of your youth advertising strategy in 2022

1. College brand ambassadors are back—and bigger than ever.

A college brand ambassador is a student on-the-ground at a campus that serves as a representative for your brand. Implementing a student ambassador marketing program allows you to hone in on your target audience with a grassroots approach, build trust with students through their peers, increase brand awareness through strategic integration, and drive sales. 

A peer-to-peer college ambassador marketing program like our College Club™ can includes both face–to–face and online influencer activities at over 100 of the largest campuses nationwide. 

Read next: 5 Steps to Build A Student Brand Ambassador Marketing Program That Drives Results

2. College students pay attention to out-of-home media

Gen Zers are known for having smartphones in their hands every hour of the day, being highly engaged on social media, and being well-versed in technology overall. But research actually shows: young people on college campuses are paying attention to out-of-home media. 

Our College Explorer research results show that college consumers are 30% more likely to pay attention to OOH than the general population, and 4 of out 5 college students report noticing on-campus OOH media boards. The digital landscape is highly saturated—and the real-life, analog format of out-of-home advertising captures young people’s attention like nothing else can.

Additionally, according to Refuel Explorer Series: College Edition, teens are 39% more likely to recall on campus out-of-home ads, and 78% of students look at posters and media boards on their campus at least a few times a week. Not convinced yet? HALF of the students that saw ads on-campus research the brand as a result.

Out-of-home ads naturally spark conversation and interest. By weaving out-of-home advertisements into high-traffic areas, your brand is able to insert itself into students’ daily routines in a highly social environment. 

Read next: 6 Examples of Brands That Got Gen Z Marketing Right

3. College students care about causes—especially in 2022

Today’s college students are extremely aware of the pressing social and environmental issues around them. They’re well-informed, well-connected, and highly motivated to make a difference in the world around them. 

According to Refuel’s Gen Z Explorer™, 48% of Gen Z are progressive on racial issues, 47% are progressive on gender issues, and 45% are progressive on environmental issues. Gen Z is highly socially conscious with a “big picture” mentality, and our research shows that they value brands who support the causes they want to support.

Teens view their purchasing decisions as an extension of their values, and they expect brands to align with them on the stances they take on the causes that matter to them. If you don’t stand up for what you believe in, you will lose Gen Z’s support. 

Read next: 5 Things Marketers Should Know About Teen Cause Marketing Campaigns [Download Included!]

Are you ready to get your youth advertising campaigns off the ground? At Refuel Agency, we’ve been crafting strategic youth advertising campaigns for over 30 years, and we’re invested in ensuring your campaigns make an impact. Contact us today to get started.

Christina O'Toole

Christina is a data-driven, full stack marketer with over 20 years success leading marketing in technology, higher ed and publishing industries. Christina has developed hundreds of marketing campaigns and built all facets of programs including lifecycle journeys, creative direction and lead generation. She now heads corporate marketing at Refuel Agency.