Selling to students, for students

Advertisers flock to campuses to capture a target market; some feel students reap the rewards

We live in a culture so desensitized to advertisements that students may not even notice how many advertisements they pass by on their way to activities, or class, said Brower.
We live in a culture so desensitized to advertisements that students may not even notice how many advertisements they pass by on their way to activities, or class, said Brower.

The media follows us everywhere — even into our campus buildings.

In Mackintosh-Corry Hall, students must walk by a handful of ads to get into class, and there are several throughout our student life buildings we may not notice as we pass by. Each of us are subject to thousands of marketing messages directed at us every day. In 2013, advertisers worldwide spent $5.6 billion on YouTube ads alone. Ads last for just a few seconds — be it on television, social media or billboards — but multiply all those tiny seconds by thousands and that’s a lot of time taken up.

It’s unclear whether campus ads are helping or hurting students.

Jacob Brower, assistant professor of marketing at the Queen’s School of Business, said campuses are an attractive space for advertisers to reach a fragmented student market.

“The big issue is just fragmentation of markets,” he said. “So the groups you’re trying to talk to [as a marketer] are getting really fragmented in terms of their media usage, so gaining access to people is becoming more and more difficult.”

Brower isn’t sure students even notice all the advertising on campus.

“We’ve gotten really good at ignoring advertising because we see so many messages a day,” he said.

In the age of blogs, social media and Netflix, there isn’t a central place for students to gather, except on campuses.

“I think that the fact that [ads] are already there sort of makes the question of whether it should be allowed or not a bit moot,” he said. “It’s really a question of whether or not it should be allowed to continue and to what degree.” Brower talked about overt and covert advertising. Overt advertising, for example, could be the billboards we see, or televisions in US schools that children watch as part of their curriculum with advertising contained in the networking.

Covert advertising, he said, can be a bit more conspicuous in schools and draw questions of ethics. For example, if Dell were to provide schools with new technology, they’d also be getting their brand promoted.

Donating to a program or a project to get your company name on a building is still ultimately a form of advertising, according to Brower. This even happens on Queen’s campus, he added.

Advertising can be overwhelming on campuses sometimes, especially in the U.S.

“The University of Oregon is almost the University of Nike at this point,” Brower said. “They’re almost a merchandising source.”

He believes advertising at Queen’s is rather tame compared to schools in the U.S.

With ads being placed in schools, it’s been debated that elementary and high school students might not be well-equipped to deal with the stream of information they get through ads. But in the case of university students, they tend to have more experience dealing with persuasive ads and know how to think critically, Brower said.

At the core of this debate, Brower believes, is a debate on the identity of a university.

“I almost think that how we think about advertising on campus is part of a bigger question of ‘are universities designed to make a profit or are they meant to be a centre of knowledge?’” he said. “I think those boundaries are starting to blur a bit.”

With budget cuts and debts, universities are now looking to other sources of revenue.

“There’s a certain sanctity of academia, at least in peoples’sminds, and this credibility that academia has, and as soon as you start selling out the image of your school to the highest bidder, what sort of credibility does that keep for the institution?” he said.

Personally, Brower doesn’t want ads to interfere with education or be seen in the classroom.

“I don’t want to get to the point someday where at the beginning of my class I have to say ‘today’s session on advertising is sponsored by Doritos.’”

In light of concerns like these, Queen’s has begun to look at developing policy on campus advertising, according to Alan Harrison, Queen’s provost and vice-principal (academic).

“We do not currently have an advertising policy, but work on developing this policy is underway. Following the procedures for developing a new policy, a cross-campus working group — the Advertising Working Group — was established to discuss a policy, its content and the approval process,” he told the Journal via email.

Ads at Queen’s can be found in some Student Life Centre (SLC) buildings. Annie Orvis, AMS Student Centre Officer, said that advertising helps keep the valuable services of the SLC alive.

The SLC, in affiliation with the AMS, the University and the SGPS, oversees spaces like the Mac-Corry student street, the non-athletic sections of the Queen’s Centre and the JDUC. Many of these places are filled with advertising geared towards students.

Orvis said they have two advertising agreements. The first is with Rouge Campus, which places ads in the form of banners or vinyl prints on the floor.

“We get revenue based on how much space they used and when they’re not using space they give [AMS ads] the space,” she said.

The other agreement is with NewAd, which makes the ads in the bathrooms and some of the backlit ads in the stairwell by the JDUC loading dock. When they don’t sell space, they try to fill the frames with student art.

Each company will sell ad spaces to companies like Rogers and look to Orvis to approve their ads to go up in the agreed-upon space.

“The SLC budget is quite different from other [AMS] services’ budgets,” she said. “It’s not student-supported, it’s supported by all our commercial activities. We’re totally commercial.”

“We get revenue from commercial leases in the building as well as these advertising contracts, we get money from CIBC for letting them have their bank machines in here.”

Orvis said the SLC expects to get about $20,000 in revenue from advertisement contracts this year, among other sources of revenue.

“All these activities support what we do here at the SLC, including paying our staff,” she said.

“Ads are everywhere so if we can get the revenue from the advertising contracts to support our activities, I think that’s important.”

Brendon Basile, director of media operations at OnCampus Advertising, a US-based college media services company, believes that since we’re bombarded with so many ads a day, it’s best to be surrounded by ones that are tailored to students and might actually be useful.

“It’s the right message to the right audience,” he said.

As an agency, they target students on campuses across the U.S. and Canada. “I think [ads on campus] are a good thing in the sense that ... [they’re] usually relevant and useful information for students whether it’s a product that students, might like or occasionally we’ll do recruitment advertising,” he said.

He noted the funds that ads bring often support student activities. Furthermore, it’s more efficient to hone in on an audience instead of putting out useless information towards a non-targeted group.

“The benefit for the advertisers is that they know where they need to be to reach students, the benefit for students is just that it’s more useful information for them,” he said.

Alison Fox, Nurs ’15, has found the advertising scene on campus much more calming than that of Hong Kong, where she used to live. She doesn’t have a major issue with advertising on campus. “I think as long as it’s not disrupting our education or you’re walking through billboards in the main street or something, I think it’s fine,” she said.

Fox ignores the larger ads and notices more local ads than commercial ones on campus. She said she’d love to see more advertisements for events or music gigs.

Patrick RoDee, CompSci ’14, is always looking up at the big corporate ads.

“The ads that always caught my eye were the big ones; the posters for Nuva Ring that they had in the ARC and in Mac-Corry, and I think they had them up even after [a] class action lawsuit was filed against them,” he said. “I was like, wow, they’re still advertising that and there’s a class action lawsuit against them?”

RoDee also wants to see more local ads and said he doesn’t see an inherent problem with advertising on campus.

“I don’t see a problem with it per se. I may not agree with it all the time, but I don’t see any reason to stop it,” he said. “There’s no reason to limit the advertising here.”

“Just because it’s an educational setting doesn’t mean it’s devoid of consumerism.”

— With files from Emily Miller

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