Today’s youth pose a serious challenge to automakers. This article explores college marketing tips for automakers and discusses how the auto industry can appeal to college students.
College Marketing Tips for Automakers
Be Honest and Transparent When Marketing to College Students
A major challenge automakers face when advertising to students is establishing trust. College students distrust traditional advertising and brand messaging. Steve Martin, Co-Creative Partner at Firefly Creative Company, expresses his concerns with marketing to millennials (college students are a subset of millennials): “They think marketing is lying. They don’t believe something just because it’s in the newspaper or on the internet. They’re very skeptical, therefore it’s important for a brand to be authentic or genuine.”
Volkswagen severely damaged their reputation and wrecked consumer trust with their emissions scandal and should serve as a lesson to other auto brands on what not to do. While the Volkswagen deception is an extreme case of dishonesty, auto brands need to understand the importance of transparency and how it can impact sales. Dealership manager Austin Salinas explains why the dealership she works at made transparency with customers a priority, “There are some dealers who don’t want to talk interest rates and will say, ‘That’ll be handled in finance.’ We tell them everything they need to know before they go into the finance office. The second we give them any false information, our credibility is shot.”
Automakers who demonstrate honesty and transparency will gain trust with college students, which will lead to sales. It’s better to be upfront and honest with potential customers; otherwise, you risk losing the deal, the customer, and future business.
Emphasize Convenience and Travel When Marketing to College Students
Another challenge automakers face when advertising to college students and teens is that this demographic cares less about owning a car than previous generations. They are more open to public transportation and ride sharing services. Ali Fawaz, Director of Social Media at FordDirect, explains the challenges the auto industry faces when marketing to the youth, “You don’t just have to convince this age group to buy your brand’s car—you have to sell them on the need to buy ANY car. 62% of 18-29 year olds have a preference for public transport, and when they do need a car, many can just borrow one from their parents.”
So how do you get this tech-obsessed, environmentally-conscious demographic to buy cars? You need to emphasize value and convenience. College students value convenience highly and are willing to pay more for products and services that make their lives’ easier. Blaire Burke, a student at the University of Florida, says: “As college students our time is so precious. When we get busy, it’s worth spending that extra bit of money.”
Owning a car gives you the control to go where you want, when you want—without the hassle of having to wait or the uncertainty of who is picking you up. Cars also allow for spontaneity and travel, two things college students and millennials value highly. In fact, 67% of 18- to 34-year-olds said they regretted not taking a last-minute trip, and while ride sharing services are great within cities, they don’t make sense for long-distance trips. When planning college marketing promotions, it’s important for automakers to emphasize how their cars are convenient and that they allow consumers to experience freedom, control, and the ability to travel. This message will resonate with the collegiate audience.
Advertise On Campus When Marketing to College Students
Millennials pose a huge challenge to automakers because they “do not trust traditional advertising and, indeed, often seem immune to it, consuming media and content when, where and how they want.” When I hear marketers talk about reaching college students or millennial consumers, they often talk about traditional and digital marketing, like those are the only two options available to them. They want to reach students where they spend their time and so their mind leaps to social media and online channels. While digital and online marketing certainly has a role in college marketing, marketers shouldn’t overlook where students spend the majority of their time—on campus.
On-campus marketing allows auto brands to advertise to students in their physical space—in dorms, student unions, dining halls, hallways, classrooms, gyms, recreational centers—through a variety of print mediums. In addition to print, auto brands can also reach students on campus using peer-to-peer, guerilla, and experiential marketing techniques. Word-of-mouth and resonates with students because they feel a connection with their peers and are willing to have a conversation with them. Marc Sorel, CEO of NAM Youth Marketing, says, “College marketing is all about not being corporate, being real or genuine with students and having an organic conversation with them.” Peer-to-peer marketing breaks down advertising barriers and allows that conversation to happen.
When planning your next college marketing promotion, consider having an on-campus marketing component.
Stayed tuned for more college marketing tips for automakers. We will be exploring this topic more in future blog posts! Contact us if you want to speak with a college marketing expert!