The Use of OOH in The Academic World

University's billboard with the text "You in the back" is not your name.

During a difficult time like the pandemic, where hosting educational fairs to attract students isn’t possible, schools are relying on other alternatives to get the same results. One way to do so is with the out-of-home (OOH) advertising medium. This article will take a look at why and how the academic world is using OOH as a bridge between schools and potential students, along with some creative examples.

OOH Stands Out from The Traditional Competitions

AlthoughOOH is considered to be one of the more traditional advertising mediums, unlike its long-established peers, it has proven to also be one to adapt the quickest to the ever-changing marketing trends. In fact, according to one of OAAA’s recent reports, OOH ad spend has been growing steadily over the past decade.  The medium has had a continuous surge across all formats and in a variety of the top revenue categories including, “Schools, Camps and Seminars,” at +13.2%, taking up roughly $300,000 of ad spend in 2018. Among traditional advertising outlets, OOH is the only one with the upward trend in  total U.S. ad dollars, while the others are either flat or show a decline.

There are a few key reasons for this exceptional development. The marketing scene is no longer what it used to be, where methods like newspapers or television ads could easily dominate the entire industry. With technology’s rapid development, having the feature of being outside along with the ability to simulate digital outlets as a giant projector (DOOH), OOH becomes the only medium that can keep up with today’s rapid lifestyles and can follow the audience wherever it’s needed. Additionally, it has the advantage of blending in with its surroundings so well that it doesn’t come off as intrusive, thus having a lesser chance of being actively ignored. It’s also the most cost-effective medium in the traditional mix, and while the number varies from format to format, it still has an exceptional ROI.

billboard by Michigan State University celebrating 50 years

OOH Works Well with Others

Advertising is not a one-size-fits-all industry. From radio, to television, to online advertising, each has its own unique appealing aspects and its setbacks, which help them engage with a certain type of audience. In order to have the most successful campaign, one needs to take advantage of a good mixture of different types of media all together. One explanation to why OOH has seen an impressive and constant growth over the years, is its capability to work alongside other mediums to boost the overall results. With its background and the ability to adapt quickly, outdoor advertising has become the perfect middleman, pulling all channels together to outperform each and every outlet’s singular effect. While travelling on the road, radio and OOH can go hand-in-hand, one providing the exciting and upbeat audio, while one exposes the drivers and passengers to bright colors and captivating slogans when they drive past billboards and posters. OOH makes up for the high cost of 30 to 60 second TV ads and, as a result, these two can cover every corner and aspect of a person’s life, from the lively outside world to the comfortable and cozy home. Digital advertising is great by itself, but having a boost from OOH is always a big help, connecting the virtual world to the real one. Any way you look at it, OOH is a strong team player. More details and statistics can be found here.

truck-side ad by CCB, with a student posing with the university's hoodie and the text, "College without a mountain of debt."

The Catch: OOH Speaks Volumes to Young Audiences

Although OOH is part of the traditional mix, one of the most outstanding features of the medium is how effectively it can grab the younger generations’ attention when compared to others in the same category. A Facebook Business study that was conducted in 2019 reports that millennials and generation Z are greatly impacted by OOH, beating traditional media by miles and coming a little short when compared with online advertising, such as Facebook Ads. With that in mind, however, OOH has a significant edge over online ads because it’s out in the open and therefore cannot be blocked by paid applications on mobile devices. Surprisingly, outdoor channels have gained quite the popularity with these age groups. Millennials and gen Z still prefer more traditional formats rather than putting all their trust in the digital medium. Especially for gen Z-ers, OOH seems to be the most popular, with roughly 55% reacting positively to OOH ads when interviewed.

All of these features make OOH one of the most suitable advertising mediums for universities and educational centers to take advantage of and promote. Here are some examples of how OOH has been utilized in the education field.

Charles Sturt University’s “It’s What We Do”

Back in 2019, Charles Sturt University launched its recruitment campaign, “It’s What We Do”, in partnership with creative agency BWM Dentsu. Chief Marketing Officer Shawn Walker stated, “We are a hands-on university; workplace learning is a key component of almost every course we offer, and that translates into our graduates securing jobs at the highest national rate.” BWM Dentsu has found the perfect way to incorporate that message into their campaign, which is fun, creative, and makes their mission shine through. The billboard was colored bright orange with the university’s logo and the text, “Getting hands on from day one. It’s what we do”, written in a simple font. What made the billboard stand out was the illusion of arms reaching out of it, each holding a different object representing a possible career, such as a globe, a movie clapboard, a football, and even a brain! With this simple yet smart design, they succeeded in conveying their message effortlessly without any further explanation. The campaign was such a huge hit that it was awarded with a major prize at the Universities Australia Marketing, Communications and Development (UAMCD) Awards – in the “Best Marketing Campaign – Larger Budget” category.

Charles Sturt University's billboard with the text, "Getting hands-on from day one It's what we do"

Ryerson The Chang School of Continuing Education

Taking a step back from the ordinary billboard, Ryerson University, in particular The Chang School of Continuing Education, decided to think more creatively and utilize mobile ads. In 2017, they joined forces with the mobile billboard company Movia Media to operate their recruitment campaign. The campaign ran for one month, from April 17 to May 17, in the area of downtown Toronto with the purpose of promoting its name and its continuing education program along with the goal of hitting program applicants by 1,000%. The two trailer billboards featured different women posing over a bright background and looking over at the bold blue text that read, “Know where you’re headed.”. While they were simple, it was all that was needed to make the ad stand out from the busy streets of Toronto. When asked about the campaign, the university’s representative said, “Our recent campaign with Movia Media allowed us to be innovative as we explore other non-traditional ways to reach our target market of adult learners.”

Truck-side ad by Ryerson University with the text "Know where you're headed."

Royal Roads University “Don’t Stop”

Taking full advantage of OOH, Royal Roads University (RRU) decided to utilize a bus stop in downtown Vancouver and transformed it into a mini library in 2016. The pop-up shelf was filled with real books, each one included the light blue leaflet with the name of the campaign, “Don’t stop the inspiration.” Transit-goers were encouraged to take the books they found interesting home as well as leave their own to gift  afterward. Additionally, the campaign featured a sticky note wall with over 1,400 Post-Its to spell out the campaign’s name as a one-day event at the Vancouver International Airport. Stories of accomplished alumni were also spread through digital ads and OOH to showcase the success the university has had in creating an elite educational destination for anyone who is considering their options. The associate VP of marketing and alumni relations, Catherine Riggins, pointed out that “the university’s Twitter account made 102,000 impressions … with a major spike in daily impression on November 4, the start of the campaign.”

Bus stop transformed into a mini community bookshelf


There’s no denying that OOH has always been a trustworthy medium in the advertising industry, with its well-earned status and its ability to adapt to changes and trends. Contradicting the common belief that online advertising is the face of modern marketing, OOH has proven to thrive steadily, as it’s one of the channels that the younger generations prefer more. Now more than ever, the appeal of outdoor advertising is crucial to a successful educational recruitment campaign and the trend doesn’t seem to be subsiding any time soon.

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