Summary: You hear how powerful Facebook advertising campaigns can be, but maybe you’re not sure what that actually looks like in practice? We picked ten winning Facebook campaigns to show how higher ed marketing is done!
Nobody has to tell you that the higher ed marketing scene is competitive right now. Enrollment numbers are down, and schools are vying for prospective student’s attention. It’s most competitive on Facebook, where it seems every campus and its janitor closet is advertising there. Facebook is the number one market for building brand awareness through repeated exposure because so many of us burn so much time there. For the higher education market, it’s a place to nurture prospective students into potential leads and engage those who show interest.
So you’re a higher education marketer with a budget and an assignment to rent a spot in the Facebook ad stream. How do you make your school stand out? Sometimes learning by example is the best way to learn, so here are ten examples of great Facebook higher ed campaigns and why we think they hit the target.
We’re going to explore matching tone to message a lot with these. This warm and happy ad appeals to the bright and hopeful future, fostering young minds to prepare them for academic success. This whole photo says “fulfillment,” in a niche where photos of people draw the most response. “Be that positive force” and “steer happy childhoods” are winning word choices, focusing on the goal and motivation.
Now for the graphics:
- The background arrow pattern is a subliminal message, suggesting progress.
- We use green because green is the color of growth.
- Adorable pose gets a smile out of viewers.
The call to action (CTA) emphasizes value for cost and affordable pricing. The ad points out cost considerations without drawing a blaring amount of attention to it.
Moving on from the previous ad, this is a complete flip in tone with a different message aimed at a different demographic. Why would you want to work in an oil field? Money, dear fellow! There really isn’t too much more that needs to be said after that, so the ad wisely shuts up after delivering the punchy CTA: “Fuel your future career.” Ah, because fossil fuels, see?
- Bold, commanding industrial photography.
- Sepia-drenched sunset tones suggest oil and gas itself.
- There are no people in this photo because this industry attracts rugged individuals who like to work on the open range.
- So butch, it’s almost spitting tobacco juice at us.
In this era of increasing environmental concerns among youth, this ad does not waste time trying to justify or apologize for its industry. We’re still burning fossil fuels, and somebody has to drill for it. Remember that there are prospective students who want to pursue this career path; ad creative like this speaks to them.
The very first word of this ad is “discover,” and there’s a lot to explore here. For a university more famous for being one of the world cornerstones of medical research and health sciences, it may not be the first campus you thought of for liberal arts. So this ad snags your attention with imperatives, then introduces a “have it your way” approach. Students do express a desire for more flexible academic programs, so that becomes the unique value proposition.
Johns Hopkins never disappoints us with their visuals:
- Blue. The color of intellect and a serene, tranquil space for study.
- We found a model for the photo who is ambiguously ethnic for a diversity note.
- She’s hard at work, head down. No slacker at a “party school” here!
- Just look at that library facility she has all to herself.
The austere aesthetics appeal to the serious scholar, that potential bright young mind that wants to prove themselves. Finally, the CTA closes with one more reminder: Online or on campus, so even a COVID pandemic can’t slow us down.
Michigan has been through a lot in history and has come out as an economically struggling state. This ad hard-sells a diversity message; it’s the first word in the ad copy and reaffirmed at the bottom with “increasing diversity.” For those who might come from an economically disadvantaged background and hence might be unsure of their preparation, the ad states “providing mentorship.” Financial considerations? We have a scholars program too! It packs a lot of value proposition into few words.
The visuals are practically a course in ad composition on their own:
- The carousel ad format leads with two frames, one of the potential students standing on the left, the campus on the right. “Before and after.”
- Daring choice of a graffiti mural background, embracing the urban culture of Michigan.
- The model is dressed in street gear and looks just rough enough around the edges to count as an “underdog.” Even his expression tells the camera, “Don’t underestimate me; I might surprise you.”
- The campus shot is seemingly neutral, but it does include the clock to remind you: Time is passing you by. Are you going to carpe diem?
This ad plainly sells itself to the low-income, disadvantaged youth who hopes to improve their standing in life. It is saturated with spirit, telling a familiar rags-to-riches story with a strong work ethic. The unorthodox composition jolts us to stop scrolling Facebook and dwell here.
The University of Phoenix uses this ad to introduce a new resource, named their “Career Services for Life” program. This doubles down on the main reason people invest in continuing education in the first place, with a promise of career placement and guidance. And it’s “for life”! That is pretty heavy to think about. But, once you’re a Phoenix student, you’re as good as family here.
The visuals are a bit experimental since we’re selling a new value proposition that never existed before. But you can see what they’re aiming for:
- Plain, uncluttered photo.
- Reaffirmed motto right over the shoulder.
- Minority alumni to sell diversity.
- Orange tinge in the frame echoes the school logo but also suggests action.
- He’s on a stage with a microphone in front of him but dressed in a casual sweatshirt. This strange juxtaposition suggests that he’s back before the school to seek further assistance but confident that he has the school’s life-long support. He’s comfortable, and he has the microphone and hence our attention.
If you click through on this one, the landing page explains more:
So we see what “Career Services for Life” offers. This message is very competitive, offering added value to a degree at no extra cost. We have all met a few people whose degrees didn’t match up with where they landed in life, so this program affirms that you will get the maximum value out of your diploma. This is an excellent example of introducing a new offer to the market.
We’re back with another unique value offer from another university. We repeat the phrase “fixed tuition” three times here, along with “endless opportunity” twice. The word “online” also appears three times in the text. “Apply now” has an exclamation point. This is an example of a harder-selling ad.
The bare graphics:
- Just a student headshot. The focus is on you.
- Winning smile cheers, “Yeah, I can do this!”
- Big, bold font to establish the selling point.
- Flaming yellow letters on a blue background, because you have to see this.
- The school logo, a shield, gets emphasis here to suggest fortitude and endurance.
The selling point is to give students the freedom to explore their academic interests, with no consequences for false starts. “Endless opportunity” means they can pick and choose their courses unfettered by financial concerns. Here’s the landing page:
“All things possible” is a subtle choice of phrasing, echoing a familiar axiom of Christian faith but not pounding it in. The copy here is an example of “removing hesitation” since it addresses concerns about transferring credits and the convenience of flexible online courses. Those are common barriers that prevent students from choosing a school.
If your school takes an active role in academic politics or even just the local community, you can use the “toot your own horn” approach. Here, the University of California doesn’t even bother making a sales pitch, instead opting to share a news story which is great publicity for them. DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is a US law that protects very young immigrants from deportation and provides for their rights to education and employment.
We have lots of text and not much imagery, but it is still worth noting:
- Rainbow icon in the top left; have we mentioned how diverse we are today?
- Prominent branding with “University of California” as the biggest text helps associate the news with the school.
- Soft pastel colors evoke clear skies, rosy dawn, new horizons.
U of C toots their own horn for a Civil Rights victory, making a point of mentioning that they were opposing the “Trump Administration,” sure to score points with Democrat-leaning California and its traditionally liberal students. While there is not much direct marketing going on here, a “good deed” story about your school can be the best brand recognition marketing in the world.
When you can’t decide what value proposition to put forward, why not just include them all? This down-to-Earth ad hits most of the key points that interested students would want to know.
- Registration open now
- Campus is re-opened
- Affordable classes
- Financial aid available
- Transfers open
- Online options available too
It’s a text-heavy ad but designed to pack in as much information as possible. Our graphic is a photo of a candidate signing up in the student adviser’s office. It’s so folksy and charming; it could be a Normal Rockwell cover. It works for Virginia.
Molloy College takes a competitive bend, offering to attract transferring students from other campuses. The ad touts the school’s “top value,” safe re-introduction of campus learning post-COVID (but online is available too), in-demand degrees, and affordable tuition. They also emphasize “generous transfer credits,” an essential selling point for students.
But it’s the visuals that can make you stop scrolling:
- Bold red field, the color of action.
- The huge text makes sure to mention the college name twice.
- Use of the school’s distinguished lion crest (Molloy is in New York)
- The student model look so hip and fresh, she could have stepped out of a Nickelodeon teen sitcom.
Clicking through the CTA grants you a landing page that flows perfectly from the ad:
The landing page details the transfer policy, which is exactly what the ad was selling. It continues the branding and includes a small campus photo. The text also touts the service of experienced admissions counselors and the offering of blended learning (a hybrid of online and in-person courses). They even make a pitch for student clubs and societies to assure that full-bore college experience.
#10: Harper College
We close with an example of marketing to the STEM student. This ad makes a pitch for engineering students, but rather than make claims or propose selling points, it invites students to participate in a student panel and bring their questions. Engineering students are likely to be the practical sort who thinks pragmatically, so this is the best way to approach them.
Instead of a static graphic, the ad includes a video with a brief talk from a Harper engineering alumni. There’s not much more going on graphically. The Harper logo even suggests technology, with a stylized “H” rendered in pixels.
If we barge through the CTA we get this landing page:
Yep, what you see is what you get. It’s a sign-up form for the student panel. The nice touch here is that it’s the perfect hook for the top of the sales funnel. No further commitment is required, but we’re inviting you to come to our campus and give us the once-over while meeting real students to act as your tour guides.
We’ve covered a very well-rounded tour of higher ed marketing. We’ve seen all kinds of approaches, each unique based on the school, the offering, and the target market. These examples show the many layers of composing an ad campaign, from anticipating the market’s needs to making a pitch and offering a CTA to presenting the message attractively.
A Facebook ad has a lot to do in that small rectangle of phone screen space. The more thought you put into it, with some good marketing instinct, the more that ad space will perform for you!