Utilizing pop culture references, both past and present, may be one good way for collegiate marketers to capture the attention of media-saturated youths.
Immersed as people today—especially young people—are in various forms of entertainment media, which are themselves interlinked at an unprecedented level, it makes sense for companies wishing to reach college students to use popular culture as a youth marketing tool. In a two-part series, I will broadly examine the possibilities of integrating pop culture tie-ins, present and past, to such ad campaigns.
Whereas pre-teens often look back on the pop culture that defined their childhood with scorn because they feel the need to seem mature, by the time they reach college, young adults have generally aged enough for this to morph into nostalgia and fond remembrance—far more productive from a student advertising standpoint. Examples of the commercial exploitation of this process abound in Hollywood—take the Transformers franchise, for instance. Recognizing that an appropriate amount of time had passed since the peak popularity of the toys, that most of the kids who played with them would now be in their 20s, old enough to remember playing with transformers “back in the day” but still young enough for the pop culture artifact to be fresh in their minds, the production companies involved in the project invested in what would become an incredibly popular movie series targeted not to young kids (the film is rated PG-13), but to teens and up.
The range of past pop culture artifacts to draw from for the purposes of college advertising today is practically limitless—television, movies, toys, games (electronic or otherwise), books, music (and music videos), events, even advertising itself.
In fact, selecting the right one for your target youth market would be the main challenge. Some factors to consider:
- What age range is the campaign aimed at, and how old were they at the time of the cultural artifact’s peak popularity? Obviously, they need to be old enough to remember.
- Just how popular was it? Were individuals of different genders, races, socioeconomic levels, etc exposed to it? Depending on how the campaign is targeted, you may want to select something that was particularly loved by a specific demographic.
- Does the artifact still persist in the target group’s collective memory, and if so, does it in a positive way? You wouldn’t want to choose something that is the subject of spoofs or ridicule if it’s intended to be taken seriously, but seeming a little “cheesy” or “outdated” can be endearing.