Back-To-College Advertising in the Time of COVID

Topics: Marketing Toolkit, Millennials + Gen Z, Digital Media, Media + Advertising, Campus Media

Posted by: Marketing

Traditionally, the back-to-school season (for both fall and spring semesters) is a prime advertising time for businesses targeting college students (and their parents). Even in these turbulent times, many students are on their way back to colleges and universities across the country.  With this in mind, planning for back-to-college advertising remains crucial to marketing success for a wider range of organizations.

college students with masks


Why Millennial & Gen Z College Students?

You may be wondering why it’s so important for businesses to think about advertising to this demographic in the first place. Well, millennials alone make up almost a quarter of the U.S. population and have estimated annual buying power of over a trillion dollars! Meanwhile, members of Generation Z account for over 40% of U.S. consumers and have an estimated purchasing power of 44 billion annually. Finally, there are around 20 million college students attending schools nationwide.

Not only do college students generally have excellent buying power, but those students returning to campus will be spending the majority of their time there. This is even more true in these times of safer at home orders, travel bans, and limited in-person shopping, entertainment, etc.

With back-to-college advertising, you can rest assured that you will reach captive buyers who will see your ad every morning as they walk to class, every afternoon on their way to work, and every night on their way to dinner or the dorm. Talk about exposure!

Given all of the above, it’s plain to see why promoting your products and services on college campuses across the nation continues to be a lucrative endeavor that provides excellent ROI.


Why Back-To-College Advertising?

Typically, with the influx of college students on college campuses at the start of each semester, the campus population nearly triples in a short period. This rise in residents may be lower in the time of COVID, but it remains significant and is certainly on an upward trend since fall of 2020. Smart businesses take advantage of this rush to get their advertisements in front of both college students and their families. It’s hard to go wrong when you multiply your impressions without increasing your cost.


“The future rewards those who press on. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I don’t have time to complain. I’m going to press on.”

- Barak Obama

Effective Advertising for Generations Y & Z

MSSmedia has over 15 years of experience marketing to millennials from the oldest to the youngest. We understand that while millennial marketing doesn't need to be complicated, these generations are in a class all their own.  The advertising strategies that work for baby boomers don’t necessarily translate for companies targeting Gen Y and Z. 

For successful back-to-college advertising, it’s important to create custom marketing strategies that resonate with young adults returning to campus. These students are digitally savvy, value authenticity and connection, and are interested in making the world a better place. Here are a few quick tips for engaging millennials and Gen Z with back-to-school advertising campaigns:

  • Incorporate digital ads
  • Offer discounts and promotions
  • Provide experiences over things
  • Use peer-to-peer marketing
  • Support a good cause


+ See our expanded tips for engaging millennials and Gen Z when advertising.


Combining Traditional Media and Digital Advertising

As campus media experts, we understand that there’s more than one way to place your ads in front of students who are ready to buy. In these days of Zoom meetings and Facetime get-togethers, a combination of traditional and digital campus advertising is definitely the best option. 

From bike shelters to newspaper kiosks to bus wraps, traditional campus advertising has the power to gain exposure and impressions as students travel throughout campus. As one of the first advertising touchpoints, traditional media advertising increases brand awareness and recognition.


+ See our guidelines for creating successful outdoor advertising.


Throughout the back-to-school season and beyond, digital advertising opportunities amplify traditional media efforts. Millennials and younger generations are remarkably attached to their smartphones, so digital ad campaigns place your promotions directly in students’ hands. Not only that, but these ads follow your target demographic throughout their digital day. 


+ Learn the top 5 things to keep in mind when advertising on campus.


See our Marketing Toolkit to learn more about why digital advertising is so important and how to run a successful digital ad campaign.




Maximizing Your Marketing Dollars

While advertising to the college student target market isn’t necessarily complex, effective campus advertising campaigns can be a bit tricky to plan. There are many, many schools across the country and each campus is different. This creates a fragmented market with a wide variety of rules and regulations. An experienced media agency knows what’s allowed and what campus marketing tactics have proven successful. 

If you’re looking to get the best bang for your back-to-college advertising buck, consider working with a results driven media agency that meets the following criteria:

  • Knows how to create marketing strategies that resonate with young adults
  • Understands what the college marketplace will look like as students return to campus
  • Has significant experience with campus advertising campaigns
  • Owns traditional campus advertising assets nationwide
  • Optimizes digital campaigns across all social media channels, the Google Ad network, and BING

See a wide range of effective campus marketing campaigns on our Case Study page.




Whether you choose to go it alone or partner with an experienced agency, you will find that done correctly, back-to-school advertising campaigns remain an essential piece of the marketing puzzle for any business targeting young adults.


See our complete guide to advertising to university students.




Here at MSSmedia, we’ve been providing Education, Government, Real Estate & Lifestyle clients with succinct, optimized, and successful marketing solutions for more than 15 years. Consider MSSmedia a full-service, one-stop shop for all your Media and Public Relations needs. Your goals are our motivation. And our mission is to propel your message, further and faster, to achieve the outcomes you’re looking for. If you found this blog post helpful, please share!

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