The truth about students - five tips to help market your brand to students

With seven million students in the UK there's massive potential in marketing to them in both the short and long term, writes Chris Arnold, creative partner at Creative Orchestra.

Is there a typical student type?

The common student stereotype is of a white, middle class person from the UK aged 18-21, who goes out all the time, drinks a lot, dresses in cheap scruffy clothes, eats baked beans and pasta, does no work (til the last minute) and spends most of the summer at festivals. And has sex a lot. Yes, there are some that live that lifestyle, but they are a minority, and those that do are not valuable consumers to most brands - except maybe Heinz.

Less than 60% of students are under 21, almost 40% of students are studying part time, and 50% of those are aged 30-50.

Less than 60% of students are under 21, almost 40% of students are studying part time and 50% of those are aged 30-50. Almost half a million students are from abroad, and the number is growing.

TIP 1: Students are not a homogeneous group, marketing aimed at just students won’t work.

You need to profile and target properly; take time to understand your audience, and not just their behavior, but also what they think and feel. Emotions are very important at this age, as are the opinions of others in their social groups.

The basics don’t change, advertising needs to be relevant, engaging and even entertaining. Don’t think it’s all about social media either, traditional channels like TV and outdoor are powerful brand builders for students, while social is great for promotional activity.


Young people are well informed on environmental and human rights issues, with 97% saying ethics is ‘important’. These beliefs translate into practice, with students being 51% more likely than other adults to choose to purchase brands/products that have ethical credentials or demonstrate ethical values. And they are more likely to boycott brands that don’t.

But students are not just talk, many volunteer to support local causes, charities and social projects. Today’s students – tomorrow’s big consumers - are very conscientious.

TIP 2: Students look at your ethos not just your marketing, so beware of saying anything that isn’t 100% truthful - you can’t green wash them, they are far too smart and the truth comes out very quickly, usually across social media.

They know the difference between genuine and spin and they aren’t the greatest fans or large corporations so will happily blow the whistle on you and boycott brands seen as unethical - as a few have already discovered.

Work or play?

Students spend 52% of their time studying, 5% engaging in extra curricular activities, 5% working part-time and 29% of their time socialising.

Students spend 52% of their time studying, 5% engaging in extra curricular activities (clubs, societies, sport, volunteering), 5% working part-time and 29% of their time socialising. But despite the myth of students constantly partying, the majority of students go out just twice a week.

A third of students follow at least one brand on social networking sites, with 77% of students looking for promotions. However, social media is listed as "important" for just 40% of people with only 5% using it to inform their purchasing decisions.

When it comes to connecting with brands, the channel they prefer to use, according to 84% of students, is actually email.

Tip 3: Just because you can target a student doesn’t mean you will engage them or sell to them, especially as many are adverse to marketing messages.

Students are very much against the use of unsolicited texting for marketing purposes - a mobile number is a personal thing only given to close friends.

Less is more, and what you do need to be creative, clever or entertaining if you want to engage them. Never bombard them with valueless messaging or junk, they’ll just filter you out. "I get sick of the updates from fan pages - that’s why I don’t join them."


For many students, projecting the right image and identity is important, wearing designer clothes and having the latest gadgets and technology is a must.

Students don’t dress on the cheap either, spending between £120 and £200 per month on clothes. They tend to stay on top of the latest fashions, and have the latest technology, being far more likely than other consumers to consider the brand image when choosing a mobile phone or technology. You only need to enter a university library to see Apple laptops, iPads and iPhones scattered across many desks.

Price is a very important factor for 83% of students but they also demand quality, which is a key factor for 73% of them.

TIP 4: Brand matters as image is important but being cool is not easy to market, many brands get it wrong in their communications and end up looking like "dad at a disco".

Students are more likely to make purchases online – 95% using Amazon and Ebay, although just 10.8% have purchased through a social network site. Most are progressively using smart phones over laptops to buy.


There is a very outdated image of students eating bake beans on toast, Pot Noodles or pasta because they can’t afford anything else; this image simply isn’t true. In fact they are as interested in the finer things as any normal consumer, so today’s kitchen in the halls of resident has traded in the Spam for paté and baked beans for olives. Their average weekly spend on food & drink is now £185.

TIP 5: Students like the finer things in life as well as the budget stuff, if they can afford it, they’ll buy the best.

Many have got use to the quality things they have at home and expect to fill their cupboards and fridges with the same things. So there’s a massive opportunity for brands that thought students too poor, to reconsider them as both customers for now as well as when they graduate and get well paid jobs.

Overall, students are very conscientious, seek quality & value and feel brands are important. They are at a key time in their life when brands can make a major impression and generate a long-term loyalty that will pay dividends once they have moved into the workplace.

To download the whole report, The Truth About Students, visit:


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