Marketing 101: Smart Marketers Are Now Seeing College Students with Dollar Signs in Their Eyes

By Marx, Wendy | Management Review, September 1995 | Go to article overview

Marketing 101: Smart Marketers Are Now Seeing College Students with Dollar Signs in Their Eyes


Marx, Wendy, Management Review


Smart marketers are now seeing college students with dollar signs in their eyes. Students are brand-conscious and very loyal, and marketers want a piece of the $93 billion they spend annually.

Some things never change. Where once college students swallowed goldfish or piled into a telephone booth for kicks, students today engage in stunts like human bowling, using themselves as the ball. But though campus antics 1990s-style are as silly as ever, there is one big difference. Today's high jinks have the stamp of such corporations as Jeep/Eagle and Reebok, which sponsor the fun and games as a profitable marketing vehicle.

Corporate America is responding to a compelling fact: Targeting the 14.1 million college students and their $93 billion in spending power makes good business sense.

"College students are entry level to the upscale adult market. They are what everyone looks for: upscale, well-educated consumers. Why not go after them the only time they are in one place?" says Stuart Himmelfarb, vice president of marketing for American Passage Marketing Corp., a Seattle-based marketing and media services company that specializes in the college market.

Why not, indeed, as every company from Sprint to IBM to American Express is busy honing its strategy to cash in on the student market. In fact, corporations are spending $185 million a year to reach this market segment. "Some college campuses are beginning to look a bit like corporate circuses," says Jay Summerall, college market senior manager for the AT&T Universal Card. What's attracting the corporate muscle is not just the students' propensity to buy, but their long-term potential as customers. Or, as Al Lenio, group manager of Sprint's college and university marketing, puts it: "We treat college students with kid gloves. They're our future customers."

By targeting college students, marketers are investing for the future. College is the time that brand loyalties, often lasting a lifetime, are acquired. According to MasterCard statistics, 75 percent of college students still have their first credit card after 15 years. And 60 percent report having their first card for life.

Equally compelling, college students are apt to be early adopters of new technology, making college campuses fertile launching pads for new products. For example, 45 percent of all Internet users are between the ages of 18 and 26, says Glenn Gutmacher, new media manager for College Advantage, a Boston, Mass.-based college marketing firm. And as their Gap- and J. Crew-clad bodies proclaim, college students are decidedly brand-conscious. "They wouldn't give a second thought to buying a 1-1/2-liter bottle of Evian water," says Eric Weil, publisher of Collegiate Trends, a college marketing publication.

Take Anna Hunt, a senior at North Carolina Agricultural Technical State University. Hunt, who is conference chair of the American Marketing Association Southern Regional Collegiate Conference, has well-defined brand preferences. "I'm parcel to Liz [Claiborne] as far as women's attire," she says. "I'm loyal to Lee jeans. Cometicswise, I'm loyal to Mary Kay."

More Than the X Factor

Don't, however, confuse the college market with that overworked label Generation X. In fact, the college market is its own segment. "Those who attended college," says Himmelfarb, "are dramatically different from those who did not." Those who did not attend college are twice as likely than their college-educated counterparts to be both married and parents. They are likely to have' more fixed expenses and tougher economic prospects, he says. And the two groups' spending habits differ. College-educated young adults are three times as likely to have a credit card and many times more likely to own a computer.

Given those statistics, it's not surprising that marketers are beating a path to the college campus. But don't assume that college campuses are instant marketing oases. …

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