Monday, August 20, 2007

Advertising Age offers advice for targeting college-age consumers

It's back-to-school time, and as practically any retailer will tell you, B2S is quickly becoming another critical season (maybe even second to Christmas). While college-age shoppers are notorious for being fickle and hard to target, this article from Advertising Age notes that their fondness for cable TV and web surfing is giving marketers much better control over how and when they show their ads:
When it comes to advertising, for example, students are just as much about viral marketing as they are about keeping it verbal. Two-thirds of students said they learn about new brands, products and services they would like to purchase from friends, with 61% citing word-of-mouth as their preferred method of communication. That's up considerably from 2004, when 48% said they prefer word-of-mouth advertising. Of the brands most important for students to share with their friends, movies and electronics are the two key categories, with 60% citing movies and 48% citing electronics, respectively.

"Word-of-mouth is possibly seeing more strength in the advertising category [because] it's not perceived by most college students to be an advertising platform or a marketing tactic," Ms. Skey said. "It's just an information source or a social media of sorts."

As a result, social-networking patterns have changed in the last three years as well among the college demo. Ms. Skey said students are maintaining fewer personal profiles across the many
social-networking options (down from an average of 17 in 2004 to 7 in 2007), but keeping more friends on average in less places. Essentially, they've already gone to the trouble of aggregating their potential audience reach for marketers hoping to reach them on MySpace and Facebook.
Both of these trends seem to indicate that it's going to be harder to optimize in-store media for this demographic as media choices continue to expand and (consequently) target specificity continues to improve. However, one thing that we do have going in our favor is that because our medium is place-based, it already has an extra degree of specificity that broadcast TV and even cable lack. Can we use the fact that our screens are in stores to better connect with this key demographic during this very important time of year (in the retail calendar, anyway... down here in Florida I'm personally waiting for the beginning of "yay, I can go outside again" season, which usually starts in late October).

I think the answer is yes, provided that the advertisers running content on the screens are willing to do a little more integration work. Many of these companies are already using social networking and word-of-mouth campaigns to build buzz and gain mindshare with 18-24 year olds need to extend these projects into the store on their POP displays, and of course their in-store media. The latter could prove especially beneficial, since they can be updated frequently to reflect the dozens or hundreds of minute changes that often take place in below-the-line efforts like organized word-of-mouth.

I've still yet to see advertisers jump on board with a truly integrated in-store advertising campaign, but as they continue to work harder to reach ever more elusive and media savvy demographics, it seems like it will only be a matter of time before this becomes commonplace.

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