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How Out of Home can help brands reach students after Lockdown

Updated: Sep 1, 2020

A condensed version of this article can be found here:

The UK has over 2 million students enrolled in academic institutions at any one time that we would consider as “uni students”. This can be a huge market for brands seeking uplift and reach with 18-24 or specifically “students”. You have clicked a link to read this so I’m guessing you already know the basics, but here are the key facts post Covid-19.

Roughly 700,000 Freshers (1st years) start each Autumn in September/October, this has not been impacted and has in fact grown in 2020 from 2019 levels based on Ucas applications.

Following on from previous updates we have now spoken to all our campus locations again and they are all confirmed to be open with students back on campus starting from early September. This article covers some of the details around this and also what consumer trends we can expect from students post lockdown.

Why has it increased? Are students not supposed to be skipping it this year?

It turns out that many have chosen to attend in what they expect to be a poor economic year for job opportunities and the presumption that it might be less possible to have the traditional gap year travelling experience from Autumn. The June 18th application deadline came as somewhat of a surprise and put to bed fears that applications would decrease. This uplift was heightened by the expectation that September 2021 should see record applications, so places deferred or not taken this year are not guaranteed to be available in September 2021.

Are all the classes not just online now so the students will stay with their parents?

This is just not true either. Universities have worked tirelessly over summer to plan courses based on blended learning between online and face to face teaching. This means that students will be on campus and attending far more frequent small class groups. The large lectures of 500 students have been replaced with video lectures and smaller class group work has been increased. Students can look forward to a relatively normal campus experience with the options to do most activities that were available in other years. Student accommodation is now nearly fully booked and they will be going to their campuses from September.

A study by Campus Group revealed that 74% of students surveyed are expecting university to be different next term but on the whole are positive about it.

The majority believe that online learning followed by group work will lead to more appreciation for the opportunity and them taking more responsibility for their work. Students can expect a longer teaching day with classes spread out later into the evening and occurring with more frequency. This means campus numbers will be spread out but relatively similar over the week.

Students are digital natives, so you might wonder why a screen or poster on a wall would be more effective than a screen or smartphone in their hand. The truth is that students or "Gen Zers" are one of the most targeted demographics in digital history. They are very ad-averse and there’s no longer a straight line between a Cost Per Click campaign and brand uplift. It’s easy to reach them, it’s hard to make them care.

A new study by Lumen, has found that "By combining media, brands can boost attention significantly and drive key brand metrics. The study shows that if primed first by OOH, engagement on social is boosted by 52% while spontaneous brand recall on social is increased by 125%."

Our formats run on a constant basis and students see these every time they are on campus. The prolonged exposure in the closed environment of a students' union means brands can be front of mind.

Posters and screens are a good way to stand out from the digital clutter on campus and use branding to drive home what a brand stands for and what it offers to students. By no means does it offer a stand alone alternative, blend both together to get the best results.

“Digital displays offer 47.7% effectiveness increase on brand awareness and increase the average purchase amount by 29.5% - IAB Study (Interactive Advertising Bureau)

“Striving to effect change, 85 percent of Gen Z seeks companies that prioritise solving world problems. The same percentage of Gen Z’ers are more likely to make a purchase from a company after they’ve learned the brand is socially responsible.” - Payment Source

How might students' attitudes change as consumers?

After any global event consumers attitudes can change massively. Students are already a sought after demographic as they have the potential to be life long customers to a brand. The playing field has almost been reset and students are looking with fresh eyes at how they view and buy from brands. Recent events and cultural movements have brought a new level of scrutiny to how brands portray their core beliefs and what they do say or in some cased don't say can have a huge impact. Here are a few insights that might help when considering reaching this audience across a few different categories.

Health and Fitness:

Yes to mindfulness, exercise and saying yes to more opportunities. A big no to staying inside, being online without productivity and waste. They want to get out and make the most of it. (Source Campus Group)

Athletic leisure wear and equipment will continue to grow in this demographic with fashion brands that offer this seeing the most increase. (Source YMS Youth Survey). Fitness is a huge trend this year and is expected to be boosted further post Lockdown.


With such a conscientious audience, you might expect that fast fashion could see some negative knock-on from recent news stories. Brands that can reinforce their commitment to social responsibility will come out ahead. Regardless 98% of students responding to a recent YMS survey revealed they had purchased from brands linked to social scandals over the last 12 months.

This reveals that while students would like to be more conscientious with their purchases, the reality is that economic constraints often prevent them being able to do so. Brands that can truly show that they are socially responsible will offer the best of both worlds and see the most benefit. Out of home offers the perfect platform to do this.

Second hand first?:

We expect the second hand and recycled market to be a huge trend this year with brands like Ebay and online clothes and book re-sellers benefiting from a market that views second hand goods as a way to support climate activism and reduce consumer waste. (Data source YMS Youth Survey). As ever this should be taken with a pinch of salt and ultimately cost, awareness and convenience will come out ahead. If you are selling second hand, let them know about it and make it easy to access. Again, what they would like is a factor vs what they can afford.

82% have picked up a new skill or hobby over lockdown (Campus Group). Whether it’s playing the guitar or starting Yoga, they are more open to new passions and interests. Students are open minded and willing to try new things.

Travel is a huge trend and has only grown bigger under lockdown:

They want to split as soon as possible - Two big factors are immediate short term travel and breaks as soon as possible. That’s city breaks, camping, hostel stays and Xmas markets. Even traditional short haul beach holidays which previously ranked low in this demographic are on the up. They cannot wait to get on a plane and they are willing to go now.

Then summer 2021 is the key period for “bigger things” planning with a huge number planning backpacking or staying further afield. A Campus Group survey had 29% reply that travel was a priority over study in the short term. Students are planing for summer 2021 now!

Jobs and careers:

Employment surveys by Hype Collective reveal that students are very pessimistic about their chance of securing graduate jobs. With internships almost wiped out over the last 6 months and grad roles cut, they are understandably concerned about what opportunities will be open to them. Lockdown has massively increased career stability as a key desire over what was a growing trend for entrepreneurialism and a preference to work for emerging and start ups.

Companies that are still recruiting have a unique opportunity to reach a wide pool of highly skilled graduates who in previous years might have been less attainable.

Again, consider all of the above and drive home what the company stands for and why it’s a great place to start as a grad.

If you would like any more detail on the above or would like to see case studies on how RockBox helps brands reach students, please reach out on We have several discounted packs available to reach students over Q4 and can accommodate most budgets.


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