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Campaign Failing? Why Creative Design Is Key For Universities

3 mins read

You know it. Deep down, you know it. Most students don't choose where to go to university based on academic reasons alone. 

sharpie pens and books

The city, campus, or country life holds priority. As does night-life and nearby amenitites. But so does your marketing power. If you're struggling; go creative. Creative design is key for universities. Keep reading to find out more about why your campaign might be failing and what you can do to improve it.

1. Intense Competition

The competition you're facing is bigger than ever. With numbers of university places being offered to students increasing again this year, beyond what were already record highs, competition for attracting students has never been more fierce.

You're facing this competition on TV, social media, radio, websites, email inboxes, the side of buses and - heaven forbid! - even at Sixth Form and College career days.

If you are finding that you can no longer rely on name alone, it come could down to making sure enough people take note of your campaign in order to fend off the competition.

designed book

Everyone is presenting information in one of two ways:

  • Playing on the fact that they've been around longer than The Archers, have links to famous names in the Arts/Sciences as part of their alumni and have a legacy which stretches back across the ages.


  • Pushing the fact that they're a dynamic, new, exciting university, which grew out of their success as a polytechnic in years gone by, and with the best links to industry professionals and it's they who can give you a fast-track route into a career. Yeah!

And both campaigns will feature loads of the same old types of imagery: their most studious-looking and photogenic students in the library, on the street, or in a lecture hall - all with beaming smiles on their faces.

designed handbook for universities

You need to offer something different visually, and something different physically too, instead of just another plain website, poster campaign and printed handbook. A great example is the prospectus above, which was designed by Pepper Creative for the Isle of Wight College. It uses metallic foil printing to give it a regal and intriguing finish.

Alternatively, have you thought about animations, character creation and bespoke websites for your prospective students, or putting slogans and information on things students might actually need, like a spatula? You need to do something to get ahead and attract those students towards you.

2. Students Are Laissez-Faire When Deciding About Their Future

Let's look at your most common demographic; 18-year-olds, or thereabouts, who are under a lot of pressure to study for their A Levels, earn enough money to go out socialising, and recover from going out socialising. Oh, and apply for university too.

So it's good to get creative in order to motivate them into choosing you. Pull it off and you'll stand out from the swathe of all the other just-another-university universities, but still build the trust and confidence that you'll reward them with a good degree too.

Lindsay drawing

Consider the creativity as the hook to make you stand out. The information you give them once they're hooked is how you reel them in.

3. Impress Parents

Make sure to impress their parents or carers. At the end of the day, having a fun and original campaign will only go so far if there's no substance to back it up.

When your prospective students turn to their parents, aunts and uncles, older siblings and teachers for advice and they tell them what attracted them to you (i.e. your creative campaign and materials), this is the point where the substance comes in.

posters and pictures

When we say 'substance', we mean the key details - what you offer in terms of research facilities, lecturer strengths, Masters and Phd possibilities, career prospects, etc, etc... Bang! Hit them with it and you've wow-ed them whilst also delivering the serious stuff too. Then, you'll stick in their minds. Which brings us to our next point:

4. Stick In Their Minds

If you have stood out from the crowd of prospective places of study on the careers advisor's bookcase, and have made them smile or engage emotionally whilst they see what's going on and check you out, then the serious stuff has more chance of sticking too.

As we mentioned earlier, the number of university acceptances has broken records again this year, so it's important to stand out from the others. There's so many ways to get creative. You just need one thing to stick in their minds.

welcome week booklets

One example that never fails to amuse is the urban myth that used to go around Sixth Forms up and down the land. Rumour had it that Nottingham Uni had 7x as many female students as it did male.

It worked for the girls who wanted to get away from the male of the species as much as possible, and it worked for the boys who thought they'd have more chance being The Boy About Town if they studied there. Whichever marketing person spread that rumour did more for getting people talking about Nottingham Uni than any open day ever could have done.

It might not even have come from the marketing department - it probably didn't. It might not even have been true - in fact, it isn't true - but people believed it. It got people talking about the Uni and the city, which goes a long way to helping you meet your goals with your campaigns for attracting students. (Disclaimer: We're not suggesting you actually make up a rumour like this).

Want more tips? We recommend using inbound marketing as part of your marketing strategy. Take a look.