How to Boost College and University Enrolment with Out-of-Home

Image of Viterbo University's billboard advertisement.

Over the years, more and more students have opted to pursue post-secondary education to prepare themselves for success in the modern workforce. With countless post-secondary pathways available — colleges, universities, apprenticeships, certificate programs, and vocational training — the mission to attract up-and-coming young talent has proven to be increasingly intense. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably looking for a way to make your school stand out this coming back-to-school season.

Creative outdoor advertising can be an especially powerful and cost effective tool to add to your school’s campaign. In this article, you will learn how out-of-home (OOH) can build awareness for your school, ingredients for an effective outdoor ad campaign, as well as notable case studies of how OOH has performed for educational institutions.

OOH Reaches Potential Students and Community Members

These days, advertising can be quite a headache because many forms of media can be turned off, thrown away, skipped, or deleted. Just think about it — bulk mailings are tossed out without a second glance, few tune in to the radio or cable TV, emails are left unread before they’re eventually deleted, and nearly everyone skips annoying online ads!

Image of phone screen displaying no pop-up ads.

One major benefit that OOH has is that it’s one of the only mediums that cannot be avoided or ignored. Despite being old-school, OOH is ever-evolving to seamlessly engage the mass market. It’s not just that people are noticing billboards, bus shelter displays, and transit ads, but they actually pay active attention to them. 

For the average person that spends 70% of their waking hours out of their homes, they are 33% more alert and attentive to their surroundings when they’re out and about. When it comes to getting the attention of prospective students, namely young adults belonging to the Generation Z demographic, OOH has proven to be a highly effective medium. 84% of this audience say they pay attention to advertising in places such as trains, airports, taxis, on the road, and malls. 

Another added benefit of OOH is that it screams credibility for your school. If audiences are exposed to online messaging, via a social media ad for example, and then to OOH advertising, their trust in that brand is likely to increase. Research by Nielsen shows that OOH is one of the most trusted advertising mediums — with over half of people (56%) saying they trust it and 58% of people taking some sort of action after seeing the ad.

Ingredients for Effective Outdoor Advertising

Now that you’ve decided OOH needs to be integrated into your school’s next ad campaign, it’s time to figure out how to do so efficiently and effectively. Launching a successful full-blown outdoor advertising campaign requires planning, tact, and seamless execution. To engage prospective students, your OOH advertising should be tailored according to their behavior.

1. Speak to your target audience(s)

Less is more when it comes to creating a compelling, impactful OOH message. In 10 words or less, engage with your target audience with an action-oriented, thought-provoking, and benefits-focused message. So, maybe trying to convey your school’s entire history and track record of success isn’t necessarily the best plan-of-action. Rather, convey to prospective students that your school can help them hone in on their skills to strive for their personal successes. Keep in mind that your ad campaign should also appeal to nontraditional students and working adults.

Image of college-bound students.

What’s more, designing a message that resonates with parents whose children are heading off to college is an important factor to consider. After all, most parents are heavily involved with which schools their children apply to and ultimately attend. 

2. Get the right location

The location and placement of your OOH ads play an integral role in the success of your campaign. Therefore, choose prominent high foot traffic areas frequented by large numbers of potential applicants — think urban centres, malls, transit stations, restaurants, highways, etc. Take note that unconventional spaces, such as the sides of buildings, uncluttered roadsides, or truck-sides, can sometimes be more effective locations than saturated and crowded areas. From there, determine the OOH display formats that best suit your goals — billboards, truck-side ads, bus-shelter ads, street furniture, posters, etc.

Image of busy university building.

3. Get the right timing

They say time is of the essence — and this applies to OOH advertising as well. Timing of your ad campaign encompasses both time of the day and time of the year. With regards to the former, it would be wise to display your ads during morning and afternoon rush hours when people are getting on and off work or school. As for the latter, yes, it is crucial that you get the word out about your school during enrolment periods. However, don’t overlook other times of the year. For example, you can develop campaigns throughout the year around important school events, such as open-houses, sporting events, fundraisers, or spring-break programs. This way, your school is on your audience’s mind year-round.

4. Make it captivating

As with any other form of advertising, OOH designs need to be high-contrast and distinguishable to the eye within milliseconds of being viewed. With OOH especially, ads need to be visible from far distances and fast speeds. So, make your ad bold, but simple, and representative of your school’s atmosphere — from the picture(s) you use to the font colour.

Image of Ryerson University's mobile billboard advertisement. The ad reads "Know where you're headed."

Case Studies

Many schools and educational institutions of all sizes have had historical success with their OOH ad campaigns. Below are just a few examples that are worth learning from if you plan on doing the same:

Increased Enrolment

Strengthened Brand Awareness


For the aforementioned advantages, it’s no wonder that schools, camps, seminars, and organizations alike are amongst the highest spending product categories in OOH advertising. So, why wait? By adding OOH to your school’s next ad campaign, you’ll be sure to get A+ results with increased student enrolment and better brand awareness.

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