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College Advertising Growth Spurt

Bob Brock

Advertising expenditures by colleges and universities continued to pick up steam all of the way through the first three quarters of 2013.

The higher education sector invested a total of $918.6 million in advertising from January through September of this year, based on data from Kantar Media, a leading international provider of advertising tracking data. Kantar monitors advertising investments in DMA’s across the country (including internet display advertising, but excluding search word marketing expenditures).

Total ad spending across all sectors increased a modest 0.7% to $102.5 billion for the period January-September. But most colleges and universities base ad spends around the academic year, so it’s no surprise that higher ed investments picked up as we moved into Fall semester. Q3 saw $347.1 million in paid advertising buys by colleges and universities, or 38% of total ad investment thus far this year.

The increasing overall level of ad budgeting – and the fact that over 300 institutions joined the ranks of new advertisers during the third quarter of 2013 – put an exclamation point on the year-to-date numbers for 2013.

Ad Buys Q3 2013

The trend toward using paid advertising to build awareness, image, and bottom line performance continues to broaden. While for-profit institutions have long relied on aggressive advertising, more and more non-profits – both public and private – are finding bottom-line benefit in strategic advertising.  To date, nearly 2,100 different higher ed organizations have employed some level of paid advertising this year, and about 68% of them are non-profits.

And ad budgets are increasing, too. Fifty-one higher education organizations bought more than $1 million in advertising during the first three quarters of the year. More than half – 29 institutions – were not-for-profit colleges and universities. The top-spending non-profit invested $23.6 million over the 9-month period, while two other independent non-profits spent more than $10 million each, and six more were at the $4.0 – $6.0 million range. It represents a major shift in recent years.

Of the year-to-date’s million-dollar club, 10 public universities were in the $1.5-million-plus range, with the top-spending public university weighing in at $5.4 million over the first 9 months of the year.

The higher marketing levels are increasing competitiveness in major recruitment markets across the country. The most competitive higher education markets in the US are shown below – Cleveland and Minneapolis, surprisingly, among them – with a tie for the #10 spot:

Top Competitive Ad Markets 2013

Preferred platforms for reaching higher ed audiences remain unchanged, with combined TV and cable platforms still the top choice, accounting for 41% of expenditures, and internet displays at 26%.

Ad Buys by Platform, 2013

Looking ahead, we see continued strong growth in advertising expenditures in the higher education sector in Q4 of 2013 and through the first half of 2014. Expenditures by both public and private non-profit institutions will likely increase at a robust pace, while the for-profit sector will see more moderate expansion.

The choice of TV, Cable, and Internet will continue as the most effective platforms to reach target audiences, with continuing strong growth of online venues.

Visit with EMG President, Bob Brock at Booth #5 during the CASE VI Conference in Kansas City January 12 – 14, 2014 to learn more.

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