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Key insights: Gen Z students’ take on food & drink

Freshers is a key opportunity to meet students at the peak of their receptivity. But it’s an easy window of opportunity to miss. Hear from Andy McCreadie on how to time your marketing so it lands just right with your future customers. 



Can you give us a bit of background about your career and the areas you’ve worked in before?

I’ve worked in advertising for the media space for the better part of 15 years. My specialty throughout that has always been around attraction, and particularly focused on students. I’ve spent a decent amount of time within the student advertising space, ranging from major international publishers, to discounting platforms – and landing here, in the sweet spot, promoting on-campus advertising for students. 


Focusing in on students – what makes this audience unique and exciting for marketers?

Every single year, the demographic refreshes – with a new student cohort arriving on campus. This is one of the few areas within marketing where every year, you can completely reinvent yourself. 

Also, you can engage with someone at a really malleable time in their life; students are establishing trends and behaviours that will generally follow them beyond uni. Really, from the ages of 16 to 24, you’re kind of deciding who you are. And there’s a real opportunity for brands and marketers to help guide that. 


And how students engage with advertising -What are the main differences between how this demographic like to interact with brands compared to the wider population?

One of the things that people often misinterpret is that there is a huge wide chasm of difference between what a student thinks and what other people think. Students are still just people – I promise you! 

But there are different ways to interact with students. You’re vying for their attention with not only other advertisers, but also physically their entire university experience. Friendship groups, a new location, studies, exams – there’s a lot going on in a student’s life. For best results, be upfront, honest, and visible – really get to the heart of where they are. 


There are so many opportunities to advertise to students throughout the academic year. Other than Freshers – which moments do you think advertisers often overlook? And why do you think they should be considered?

I mean, the cliche answer is the whole of the university experience. But it’s true – there are so many opportunities!

For example, let’s take just before Easter: students will be going on study breaks, they’ll be taking the rest breaks, there’s a likelihood they’re all heading home – whether that’s round the corner or the other side of the world. If you’ve marketed to students right before that Easter break, they’ll take your brand message to every corner of the globe. 

Another key period is around Christmas and New Year. Again, students will all be going back home, and bringing a bit of their new cultural experience back to their places of living. But the other side of the New Year is the Refreshers period; this is when students come back to university from being on Christmas break. It’s another great opportunity to get involved, and reignite the brand recognition you gained at Freshers just a few months before. 


Do you think there are certain times throughout the year that are more important to certain verticals?

I wouldn’t exclude any vertical from any time of the year. There will always be ways in which every vertical can engage with students. But there are certain points where you’re perhaps going to get a bit more bang for your buck. 

If you’re an international travel brand, for instance, you’ll want to be on campus in October or November. It’s just after Freshers, where it’s died down a little bit – students are forming new friendships and reconciling old ones from home, and getting those summer holidays and winter breaks booked in. 

I’d also call out homewares here – most students will be choosing where they live in November, closely followed by January the following year. These are hotspots for housing and accommodation brands. Not long after that, there are the age old questions: “who buys the plates?”; “how many mugs do you really need”? These conversations can start as early as November when contracts get signed and plans get made – but as a key critical point, I’d say homewares brands should maximise the times just before and just after the summer break. 


How do students’ preferences and attitudes change as they progress through their degrees? Anything brands should be aware of? 

When students or any group first go to university, it’s a brand new experience. For some, this is the first time they’ve lived away from home, cooked on their own, cleaned their own room. They are experiencing a whole world of “new” – and as a brand, you may also be a new entity. It’s a great time to get in there – students are in a psychological state of learning.

If you are a brand that students are already familiar with, your presence is important for different reasons.  Lots of students do experience loneliness. Sometimes, a home comfort is something which they just really need – and they really treasure that.

As they go through university, they’ve genuinely formed friendships, and hopefully, they’ve got a bit more clarity in terms of what they’re doing moving forward. Studies get a bit more serious. They’re slightly more focused on what happens next. From a brand’s perspective, that’s where you start looking at how to transfer that initial purchase into long-term brand commitment. How do you ensure that upon leaving university, this newly-graduated individual becomes a customer for a longer period of time?


Focusing in on Freshers – it’s the biggest opportunity to get in front of students when they are completely open minded and seeking guidance. It’s a no-brainer for advertisers to introduce themselves. How would you recommend brands stand out from the crowd?

The simple answer? Be seen, be bold and have fun. During Freshers, you will be there with anywhere between 30 and 200 other brands – each offering their own experiences. 

Don’t be afraid to let your hair down and engage with the students. Some of them will be very nervous. Talk to them; give them something for free. You can’t beat a free gift during Freshers. 


What are the key ingredients for landing a tip top campaign during Freshers?

Multiple touchpoints! Make sure that you are engaging with students physically – that you’re  present on campus – but also that you’re following up digitally. Think: are you being seen? Are you being known? Will you be remembered? I would always recommend that you aim to be remembered so that you can provide that long-term ROI as students progress through university life.


How do on-campus touchpoints differ from non-campus touchpoints? 

On-campus activations guarantee you a certain audience – and by being on campus, you are within an environment that’s trusted by the students, too. 

The other key difference between on campus and digital is around cut-through and remembrance. You could absolutely advertise on well-known social media apps, shall we say – and you will manage to retain half a second of attention if you’re lucky, getting on campus with them guarantees you significant exposure and recollection. Finally, being on campus meansyou’re engaging with students at a university that they’ve chosen to go to. That means that you’re inserting yourself into that choice. And that is very powerful when it comes to any marketing proposition.


Ready to kick off your Freshers campaign for 2024? Let’s get started.