Advertising techniques trap college students in sales

Sarah Hillenbrand

With a whole new breed of guerilla marketing techniques drawing new consumers in. For students at colleges nationwide, who are often the target demographic for many new products, being aware of these advertising techniques can help them stick to their budgets and avoid overspending.

“Advertising makes people aware of a product or service and how that product or service would benefit the consumer,” said Bryan Bickford, the advertising and communications manager for Institutional Marketing at Grand Valley State University. “Good advertising is research based so that the advertiser is aware of the target market and crafts ads to speak directly to that group.”

Suzeanne Benet, an associate professor of marketing, said advertisers target their campaign at a particular group who is most likely to purchase the product. For example, if the product has to do with saving money, companies will target ads at college students because they know that is a concern for students, Benet said.

“Businesses don’t normally try to appeal to every customer on the planet,” said Kelly Cowart, an assistant professor in the marking department. “They identify what is called a target market, a group or groups of customers that are most likely to purchase a product or service. Accordingly, businesses develop promotional campaigns to appeal to those identified target markets.”

The three main concepts that are focused on in advertising are the message, the people in the ads and where the ads are being placed.

“If you’re talking to young adults, you would use people in the ads that look their age and that seem like them, like they’re in college too,” she said. “So the people in the ads look like they could be one of your classmates.”

Placement of advertising is also important for companies who are using college students as their target market. Companies place ads for their products on media that a lot of college students will be exposed to, including football games or social media. “You go to where the students are to do your advertising, either literally as in location or through media that students would be choosing to be exposed to,” Benet said.

Another common technique is a question at the beginning of the commercial that, when answered, seems like it’s speaking directly to you and draws your attention to see what they’re selling, Benet said. “You have to make the ad seem like it’s worth their time to pay attention, and that it’s answering a need they have,” she said.

Bickford said he didn’t think college students were more susceptible to advertising than any other group that’s being marketed to.

“My guess is that by college, most people have a basic understanding of the purpose of advertising and therefore are able to make informed decisions as to whether or not to buy a product,” he said.

Benet agreed that students aren’t more susceptible to advertising but said students do want to have the feeling of fitting in, more than most other targeted market groups.

“When something has started to become popular, you can say that they’re wearing that brand because of the ads, but I would also say that they’re wearing that brand because it’s what everybody else is wearing and they want to be like everyone else,” she said.

Cowart, on the other hand, said students might be more vulnerable to advertising just because of how much exposure they have to ads. She said research shows the typical college student devotes about 21 to 23 hours a week watching television, and combining that with the amount of time spent online shows students are constantly being bombarded with ads.

There are also advertising techniques that are less noticeable, like getting one month of a subscription free and then charging for the product in future months. Benet said advertising early is also very purposeful so that students are locked in, to a trip for example, and can’t change their minds later if realizing they have more expenses to cover than they have the money for.

“Being more aware makes any person, college student or more mature adult, less susceptible to falling into things that are caused by a lack of knowledge,” Benet said.

Cowart agreed that students can be aware of common techniques used in advertising to make better purchasing decisions.

“The ability to dissect and process advertising messages is a key step in the purchase decision,” she said. “So, like any consumer, students must be mindful that ads are normally meant to generate a financial exchange. However, we can use the information presented to make informed decisions and at the end of the day, the best consumer is an informed consumer.”
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