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Freshers Roundup: Engaging Gen Z

5 minutes with Jamie Voss. Student bar with a digital 6 sheet.

The freshers period is prime time for brands to target Generation Z, as the new cohort of students flock to their university campuses.

Eighteen-24 (formerly Redbus Media)‘s Director of Business Development & Partnerships, Jamie Voss, has been instrumental in building and maintaining relationships with universities and students’ unions, to ensure our digital advertising screens give brands maximum exposure to Gen Z.

We caught up with Jamie to find out the lowdown on freshers 2023, including his take on the contemporary student experience, and how the Eighteen-24 (formerly Redbus Media) screens feed into the ever-important sustainability narrative.

Jamie, you spent many busy weeks buzzing around the country in September and October – what’s stood out to you?

JV: Students’ unions are the still the beating heart of campus life – no two students’ unions have quite the same character, layout or feel, so the one constant is the energy. During freshers this year, the atmosphere was electric, and it was great to see such huge crowds.

Has freshers changed in recent years?

Quiz nights, bingo and karaoke are a big thing… and coffee is the new beer, although beer is very much still a thing! But, the biggest change is the lean towards wellness and quality of life. Students have become more conscious about mental and physical wellbeing, and are enjoying inclusive environments that reflect those values.

The biggest change is the lean towards wellness and quality of life.

And, would you say that the students’ unions have shifted in this direction too?

JV: 100%. Students unions are the social centre point, but have also become wellness hubs. There’s been a trend of cosy-fication in unions over the past few years and now, most have a reputation for providing a safe, social-bonding environment for students. As expected, they prefer to spend as much time as possible in these spaces. The lure of inclusivity draws students away from halls (where populations are small and facilities are limited), towards students’ unions: their home-from-home.

For students, it’s not just “the union”, but “their union.

Collaborative workspaces, relaxation zones and gender-neutral toilets are now pretty standard; bubble tea cafes, artisanal bakeries and coffee shops have popped up everywhere too. Some students’ unions have their own swimming pools, prayer rooms, theatres, cinemas, games rooms, and chill out zones. Refreshment and food options have also broadened to include more variety, diversity and premium offerings.

Students’ unions are destinations for all, and as a result, dwell time is significantly increasing.

What new events have you noticed?

JV: The flagship freshers fairs, freshers balls, club nights, sports and society gatherings are still super popular. However, there’s an increase in wellbeing and inclusivity events – such as mindfulness webinars, walk n’ talks, board game nights, puppy petting, craft workshops, vintage fairs, pop-up farm food stalls and vegan BBQs – all year round, and dialled up around Mental Health Awareness Week.

Puppy being hugged
Puppy Petting as stress therapy

Interesting, and great to hear. Have advertisers adapted to the wellbeing and inclusivity trend?

JV: Many advertisers have altered their creative messaging to blend into the current student vibe.

The Cabinet Office‘s Disability Unit launched their #AskDontAssume campaign, which challenged assumptions about the capabilities of disabled people, capturing the spirit of freshers with its message of equality and togetherness.

PureGym invited students across the UK to be part of a “Student Social” at their local gym – a high energy event with DJs, freebies, lifting workshops and party-filled classes. Also, a chance to win annual membership.

Warwick University Students' Union - pool tables and digital 6 sheet for Pure Gym with blue background
Pure Gym ‘Student Social’; Warwick University

Crohn’s & Colitis UK ran a national campaign to increase awareness and understanding of Crohn’s and Colitis amongst students, so that they have access to high quality care, services and support, especially as many are away from home for the first time.

Warwick University Students' Union
Crohns & Colitis UK; Leeds Beckett University

So what’s the secret to effective student engagement?

JV: It all comes down to understanding how to engage students.

Stats show that students are spending much longer in their students’ unions, so artwork which is visually arresting, and that understands student values and needs will always be the most impactful. We recommend full motion storytelling through multiple creatives, QR codes, discount codes, and personalisation (campus-specific messaging) to drive engagement.

Teeside University Students' Union shop with digital 6 sheet for Captain Morgan
Personalised creative messaging: Captain Morgan, Teeside University

Most students use ad blockers on their mobiles and laptops, so the most effective way to reach them on campus is through out-of-home.

Our partnerships with the universities and students’ unions allow them to place their own in-house ads too, to communicate their menus, social events and bespoke offers to their students.

University and students’ union-endorsed brand messages provide even more reason for students to trust the content and be actively engaged with the advertising loop.

But it’s not just about keeping content relevant, is it?

JV: No, dwell time and frequency of message is also incredibly important.

Studies show that the average student visits their students’ union multiple times a week, and 70% spend a minimum of 30 minutes there on each visit.

The value of screens that have been strategically positioned to maximise dwell time and eyeballs cannot be underestimated.

By increasing message frequency, brands can ensure students are repeatedly exposed to their ads, thereby boosting recall and response. We also support and encourage multi-creative, dynamic and targeted campaigns, to allow for more complex and nuanced messaging and to further boost engagement across this already-captive audience.

Content streamed once an hour, on a small TV screen in a bar has far less chance of being recalled. Similarly, a digital advertising screen located in a student accommodation lobby area would encounter a fraction of the footfall of students’ unions, and little dwell time.

An Eighteen-24 (formerly Redbus Media) D6, positioned in a students’ union, with a 10 second ad showing every minute for 18 hours, drives frequency, allows ample dwell time, and targets a pure play Gen Z student audience, with zero wastage.

So, can the screens be bought locally and nationally?

Screen time can be bought as flexibly as brands wish – nationally, regionally, locally, by university, by course – or a combination. The screens are just as effective at driving localised vs national activity (for example, Bath Rugby and Unilever’s Marmite)

Photo Credit: Eighteen-24. Bath Rugby 2023 at Bath University

YouGov research revealed that 43% of 18-24 year olds in the UK have never tried the spread, so Marmite found a link between this and freshers week, which is “famously a time of experimentation”. Marmite ads on our D6s, timed around freshers week, were part of a fully integrated national campaign across all media. adam&eveDDB

Marmite Ad in a students union
Photo Credit: Eighteen-24. Marmite “First Timers” 2023

How do the D6s work alongside the increasingly sustainable ideal?

JV: Our screens reflect our wider focus on sustainability. We’re best-in-class for energy efficiency and we continue to evolve each generation of digital screens to further improve this.

Our current screens for instance have no moving parts, use remote timers to minimise wastage, and incorporate temperature gauges that allow us to remotely monitor and maximise performance. Not only this, but all the carpentry and metal work in our units use 100% recycled material – which is itself fabricated in a carbon-neutral factory.

Speaking technically, then, how do the screens facilitate the efficacy of these campaigns?

The screens offer brands, students’ unions and universities an opportunity to showcase their brand message to a large, captive audience in high contrast, Full-HD.

JV: Brands can run full motion portrait video with a high refresh rate, so video content is super smooth, eye-catching and, most importantly, engaging.

The beauty of portrait digital is that it allows brands to display stunning, full-HD posters and full screen video (or a combination of the two), with space for multiple high-res ‘trailers’ and extra room for copy and branding. A great example is the recent campaign for AmazonPrimeVideo’s Gen V.

Warwick University Students' Union
Amazon Prime – Gen V: Warwick University

And finally, what’s next for Eighteen-24?

JV: We’re on target to continue the expansion of our screen estate throughout 2024 and launch new 5th generation wall mounted screens. These are the highest resolution, highest contrast, lightest, most reliable and energy-efficient screens ever launched in the sector, and we can’t wait for students to see them.

There are also several exciting new Gen Z opportunities that will expand our reach and offering across this valuable audience, and I can’t wait to announce some of the details in 2024.

Jamie Voss is Director of Business Development & Partnerships at Eighteen-24 (formerly Redbus Media). Do get in touch if you’d like to hear more about the company or are interested in advertising with us.

businessdevelopment@eighteen24.com or sales@eighteen24.com

The freshers period is prime time for brands to target Generation Z, as the new cohort of students flock to their university campuses. An Eighteen-24 D6, positioned in a students' union, with a 10 second ad showing every minute for 18 hours, drives frequency, allows ample dwell time, and targets a pure play Gen Z student audience, with zero wastage

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