Targeting University Students

University students get a lot of attention, especially from certain industries. A lot of students actually get jobs as “Student Ambassadors”, which basically means they tell tell other students to get this credit card, or read that magazine. Here in the UK, everyday I come home and there is a pile of ads promoting the nightly deals at their club.

Srsly, only 8 people live here and it is a Wednesday. This is just overkill....

Srsly, only 8 people live here and it is a Wednesday. This is just overkill….

Students are a good target for many things because they are young and going through a major transition stage in their life. Moving away from home, they are finally starting to make decisions for themselves, and these companies know that by creating an environment where students automatically default to their product, could possibly set them up with revenue for the rest of that individuals life. Students are also a desirable target market because the demographic range is so much smaller. There is a general age and economic group that university students fall into, not to mention that they are generally all in the same area geographically (the university campus).

Commercial marketers aren’t the only ones who are targeting University students however. There are many social causes on campus that are geared towards students. Here at the University of Brighton there is a lot of stuff about student health. I have a card in my wallet that I was given on my second day of “Freshers Week” which identifies the signs of meningitis (Early symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, muscle pain fever with cold hands and feet. See more at Sexual health is also a popular subject on campus. I am writing this blog post on campus at a cafe and in the hallway on the way to the closest bathroom, there is a basket filled with “Postal Chlamydia Kits”. You can just grab it on the way into the bathroom, then do your thing and mail it away to test for Chlamydia.

Behaviour Change for University Students

This one is for dudes.

On the environmental side, Brighton has the C-Change campaign. This campaign is run by the University of Brighton, and runs a few different sustainable campus initiatives. (Follow them on Twitter here!)


Last year, C-Change launched a social marketing campaign to increase recycling in halls of residence. In order to develop the social marketing campaign, research was done on the audience.

Segmenting the Market

As suggested by Alex in this month’s introductory post, there are four main variables that you can use to segment. In the case of recycling in halls of residence, all of the halls were chosen for the pilot, as they would all be included in the roll-out. Initial research was done to identify existing recycling habits and perceptions. This group was segmented geographically based on the hall they live in. This makes sense because conditions for recycling are different for each hall, so it was important to recognize how they currently perceive recycling in each hall, and what needs to be changed in order to increase recycling rates in that hall.

Looking at Values

In order to determine the values of students, the survey asked, “In general, how important do you think the following things are?”


As shown in the graph above, the top responses are about personal health, then generally the economy. Preserving the environment is third, and is much stronger than specific environmental benefits such as air/water quality or deforestation, and even lower than all of these is concerns about climate change. Not surprisingly, the item with the least importance to students is “saving the university money”. Of course, findings like these are tricky because when individuals self report values, they sometimes don’t realize themselves what messages would actually make them change behaviour (Asensio & Delmas, 2015). Gaining insights on students values is important for designing the campaign. It is especially helpful with message framing. Determining a message that resonates with something students value will help to encourage them to engage in the desired behaviour.

For this research, insight was also collected on students current attitude towards recycling. As shown in the graph below, over half of the students recycle even if it requires extra effort to do so. It is also important to note that there is one section that does not appear on the graph. Yes, none of the students stated that they “…never recycle, even if it requires no extra effort to do so”, or at least none of them admitted to it. It is important to remember in social marketing that sometimes people don’t behave exactly like they say they do.


This implies that all students understand the importance of recycling. In the Stages of Change model, these students are at least in contemplation.

Developing the Program

Clearly this group understands the value of recycling and agrees that it is important. That is why the final “nudging” solution was created to make recycling easier, and a feedback component was added so students can fix their behaviour in “real-time”. Recycling in all halls now has two bins, one for glass and one for everything else. There are also signs on the bin and above the bin that identify what can be recycled where. They include pictures so it is even quicker and easier to process. Since the kitchens are common areas, cleaners come through and wipe down surfaces and empty the garbage cans and recycling bins. While they empty the recycling bins, they check for 5 criteria such as no food in the recycling boxes and no recycling in general waste bins.

Injunctive norms for recycling

My flat could have done better this week…

The happy faces were also used as an injunctive norm to encourage positive behaviour (keep it positive!).

Next Stop: Energy!

This project was completed as a final project for a previous student in the Social Marketing Postgraduate Certificate Course. Students a common subject group for academic research and dissertations for some of the same reasons commercial marketers target them (above) and of course because students are a very easy group for academic researchers to get a hold of. So on that note, I suppose it makes sense that I will likely be targeting University students for my dissertation. The C-Change group would like to extend this program by adding an energy conservation component to it. In order to develop this social marketing campaign, research will have to go further to understand how this group views energy use and where they are wasting energy. Energy conservation is different than recycling in a few ways. One of the biggest things that needed to be changed for recycling was the logistical process of recycling in halls, which is why a geographic segmentation made sense. However with energy, it is possible to target different types of students with different strategies. So although geographic segmentation still makes sense, it is not the only way to go. The plan is to start collecting this data before the holiday break, so it looks like I will have lots of work to do.

Wish me luck!


Alison Carlyle is a #foreverstudent and environmental enthusiast, studying social marketing at the University of Brighton. She wants to say thanks to Rebecca Melhuish for sharing her findings. Find Alison on Twitter and LinkedIn

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Smith


Asensio, O. & Delmas, M. (2015) Nonprice incentives and energy         conservation. PNAS [Online] Retrieved February 2 2015 from <;

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