What Makes for a Winning College Recruitment Ad?

Topics: Millennials + Gen Z, Digital Media, Higher Ed Marketing, Media + Advertising

Posted by: Marketing

You know your school is a wonderful institution with so much to offer students. But how do you convey that information effectively to prospects? How do you ensure that your important message not only reaches, but truly engages, your target audience? Effective advertising is a vital part of this effort. Join us as we explore what makes for a winning college recruitment ad.

UCLA - 2020 (1)


To create a winning college recruitment ad, first know your audience.

The best way to successfully engage with any audience is to understand who they are and what they want. Developing an effective buyer persona is an essential part of this process. Begin by considering where and how your target audience spends their time.

  • What does a typical day look like for your target recruit?
  • Where do they go and what do they do?
  • What social media platforms do they use and how do they use them?
  • How do potential students search for schools, programs, or other post-secondary options?

Also consider your ideal recruit’s personal background, challenges, goals, learning style, and “shopping” preferences. Our Identifying Your Buyers Persona Worksheet will help guide you through this process.


MSSmedia Buyer Persona Worksheet-1




Your college recruitment ads will be most effective when they speak directly to your target audience’s needs, in their language, in the format that resonates most strongly with them. And of course, you must place your advertisements in physical (and digital) locations where young people spend a lot of time. 



“Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.” 



To create a winning college recruitment ad, remember the basics of effective advertisement design.

To create ads that will catch prospective students’ attention and drive them to take action, you need clean, creative, and research-based design and copy. Everything from the colors and fonts you choose to the words and images you use can affect the success of your advertising campaign.

Less is more. People are busy and attention spans are short. You only have a few seconds to make an impression. Make that time count with a single strong, unified message.

Keep copy clear. Space your letters, words, and lines appropriately and choose a highly legible font. Crowded text and certain typefaces can be very difficult to read and your audience will easily pass these messages by.

Select colors carefully. There's psychology behind color choice. For example, red is said to evoke love, power, and danger while yellow emanates happiness, energy, and joy. Be mindful also of creating color contrast with the copy to improve readability.

Pick impactful images. Use strong images against simple backgrounds to create a more powerful visual and improve viewer recall.


Great outdoor advertising


To create a winning college recruitment ad, consider the buyer’s journey.

As you create your college recruitment ads, you should consider the stages of the buyer's journey (awareness, consideration, and conversion) in relation to the goals you’ve established for your advertising campaign.

  • Awareness: Are you looking to amplify your brand awareness in the market?
  • Consideration: Are you looking to win over (with your program or institution’s features and benefits) college applicants who know what they want?
  • Conversion: Are you looking for engagements (applications)?

Your specific goals will inform the messaging you use in your advertisements.






To effectively recruit college students, include digital advertising, particularly mobile and social media ads.

As you design college recruitment ads, it’s important to keep in mind that your target audience is composed almost entirely of millennials and members of Gen Z. It’s no secret that these generations spend a lot of time online, primarily on smartphones, and particularly on social media platforms. Consider the following facts.

  •  Millennials spend an average of 211 minutes accessing apps or the internet via smartphone per day.
  • 55% of Gen Z uses their smartphones for five or more hours a day.
  • 26% of Gen Z uses their smartphones for 10 or more hours a day. 
  • Millennials and Gen Z spend almost 4 or 5 hours a day on social media.
  • 54% of Gen Z says social media influences them more than any other marketing channel.

To reach teens and young adults, you must advertise where they spend their time. Here are some ways to get the most out of your digital advertising efforts: 

Optimize your college recruitment ads for mobile: To ensure maximum impact, all digital ads (search, display, video, and social) should be optimized for a mobile setting so that they load quickly and are easily viewed on a small screen.

Personalize your digital college recruitment ads: Customized marketing efforts are well known to be highly effective in increasing engagement when set up properly. Between the availability of GPS-based location data and the user information provided by many apps, digital marketing offers wide scope for personalized ad campaigns. 

Include emerging media platforms. While established social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter still have plenty of traffic, teenagers and young adults are increasingly turning to emerging platforms like Snapchat and TikTok. In fact, the most popular social media sites among teenagers in 2020 were Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram (in that order). YouTube is also hugely popular with all generations, particularly millennials and Gen Z. 


+ Increase enrollment with an integrated marketing strategy.


Include video in your college recruitment ad mix.

Video is an incredibly effective advertising tool, especially for those looking to engage younger generations. In fact, members of Gen Z stream an average of 23 hours of video each week! Well-produced and informative videos convey volumes about your school’s identity, and online videos are easily shared via social media.

A recent Wyzowl study shared some impressive facts about the amazing influence video marketing has on consumers:

  • Where both video and text are available on the same page, 72% of people would rather use video to learn about a product or service.
  • 76% of marketers say video helped them increase traffic and sales.
  • 81% of people have been convinced to buy a product or service by watching a brand’s video.

Do you want to learn more about how to create a successful higher education advertising campaign? See our complete guide: Recruiting Students – A Marketing Plan to Increase College Enrollment.




Here at MSS Media, Inc., we’ve been providing Education, Government, Real Estate & Lifestyle clients with succinct, optimized, and successful marketing solutions for more than 15 years. Consider MSS Media, Inc. 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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