Higher education marketing is predictable, repetitive and disconnected from what teens are increasingly concerned with – landing a job after college. To stand out in the sea of sameness, Central Michigan University needed to capture audiences’ attention, increasing awareness and perception of the institution and its outcomes.
Americans are increasingly asking themselves, “what is the value of higher education?” The majority of Americans doubt the value of a four-year degree (NORC, University of Chicago poll), perceiving graduates to have high debt and a lack of specific job skills. For incoming freshmen, the desire to attend college is increasingly related to their desire for career placement (88% of college freshmen cited “to get a good job as the top reason to go to college (Chronical of Higher Education, 2023 Report).
Our innovative campaign is aimed to directly address that very concern. Using humor to earn attention, our relatable host delivered a simple message – a CMU education prepares you for your career. Campaign messaging connects our key differentiator for the institution (hands-on learning builds career skills) to proven alumni outcomes (second highest job placement rates in the state).
The strategy for the We Do campaign had three main factors; use humor to earn student’s attention, deliver on the value of higher education and do it all on digital platforms.
Use humor to earn student’s attention and connect with over stimulated audiences
Higher education marketing is predictable and repetitive. For teens targeted with thousands of messages every day, it’s all too easy for them to tune out. So we diverted from higher education clichés. No more beakers, frisbees or drone shots of campus. And certainly no stuffy lecture halls and “pursue your passion” speak. Instead, we leveraged humor to catch attention, took part in social media trends and played off internet memes to break through the advertising noise and push the boundaries of higher education advertising.
Deliver on the value of higher education, speaking to a key concern of students
Higher education advertising is not just boring, it’s disconnected from what teens, and their supporters, are increasingly worried about - landing a job after college. Our campaign directly addressed the elephant in the room, connecting a key differentiator for the institution (hands-on learning that builds career skills) to proven alumni outcomes (second highest job placement rates in the state). We showed how hands-on learning leads to better résumés, job applications and offers. Even openly discussing how a college degree from CMU leads to life-long earning potential.
Activate on digital platforms, where teens spend more time then sleeping
It’s no secret that teens spend a lot of time online, even using multiple screens at the same time. We met audiences where they are, investing heavily in digital platforms like TikTok, Meta, Twitch and streaming. We layered humor, motion and bold digital designs to earn and keep attention in the digital space, all while delivering on our key message – a CMU education prepares students for a career.
A not-so-boring campaign led to not-so-boring results. Including:
Using outcomes and humor, we broke through the noise and earned laughs and applications. Proving that there is still plenty of room for innovation in higher education – and we aim to keep pushing.