How to get better results from HE marketing campaigns

Is there an advertising campaign that irritates you? For me it’s the TV advert for lime green-bottled shampoo, Plantur39. Have you seen it? It’s the one that brags about its popularity in Germany, whilst the actress tells us (in a theatrical whisper) that it’s especially good for women over 40.

Why does it make me cringe? Well, for a start it seems like a low-budget, low effort kind of advert. Secondly, I don’t place much value on the core USP (frankly, I couldn’t care less about how well shampoo sales are going in Germany). Thirdly that whisper about being over 40? Urgh. A quick twitter search for #Plantur39 revealed that others hate it as much as me. Some say the ad is ‘patronising’, ‘offensive’, ‘insulting’. One tweeter comments ‘excuse me whilst I take my dinosaur for a walk’. Another questions exactly why the woman says ‘over 40 like that’ . She continues, it’s as if she were confessing:

 “it’s especially popular for woman with genital warts”.

I’m guessing the folks at Plantur39 have spent the bulk of their money on the media placement (TV) and not on their audience research or their creative execution.

What’s this got to do with HE Marketing?

I recently had the pleasure of talking about university brand communications at the Universities UK Marketing Conference. Sponsors pslondon, launched a new piece of research stating that a quarter of students in their survey had been actively put off by a university’s marketing.


If we’re honest, are we really surprised?

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room.

A lot has changed in HE marketing in the last 10 years. We are teams of qualified and experienced marketing professionals and we know good brands from bad. But something is holding us back. Yes, we are constrained by cultural forces in HE that do not always value brand or marketing-led strategy. But that doesn’t explain why I have also seen some amazing progress in brand proposition development. So, what’s going on?

What practical tips can we take to develop better brand communications?

I have a theory on this. And it concerns how we allocate resource when planning a big brand launch or a even a more modest campaign. I should note that this is not backed by much science, but it has been the distinction between many good and not-so-good campaigns I’ve seen.

There are three elements to a marketing/brand communications project. These three elements will guide your non-pay marketing spend. They are:

1. Strategy

The data: your evidence-driven plans and market research ensuring effective targeting and achieving your objectives.

2. Sends

This is your reach: how far your message is distributed (through a variety of channels, including events).

3. Sparkle

The creativity: the overall brand proposition and imaginative execution that cuts through the noise.

And here is the distinction I see at different universities:

How to allocate resources


Many universities are almost addicted to spending the bulk of their budget on the ‘distribution’ element, whether that is broadcast media, direct mail data or events. I get it. It just seems too risky not to use most of your budget to gain as much exposure as possible. But often the result is a rushed decision on the messaging, the targeting and the timing. A scattergun campaign feels reassuring, but the results will always be luke warm.

The best results I’ve witnessed occur when a university harnesses the expertise of planning and market research colleagues or a consultant (I know a good one!) and develops an evidenced plan so that every pound spent on media delivers impact. They also allocate more internal design resource (or outsource the campaign) to make sure the creative message has a stand-out quality.

And when you spend more effort on the up-front planning and inject some real creative oomph, it’s more likely your media investment will resonate and deliver the results you desire.

I’ve spent my career championing ‘proper’ marketing in HE and it’s fantastic to see more of this type of execution.

German bestseller Plantur39 has focused on ‘sends’ and very little on the strategy, nor the sparkle. How confident are you that you’ve invested enough time and effort on your Sparkle and Strategy? I invite you to reconsider how you allocate your budget investment for future strategic student recruitment or brand positioning projects. You’ll never go back.