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For-profit Ad Spending Tanks, Non-profits Grow

Bob Brock

For-profit colleges and universities have incurred major damage the past year, including sharp declines in enrollment and deep erosion of public trust in their quality and value. The advertising expenditures by for-profit institutions in the first quarter of 2014 show it.

In fact, the troubles of the for-profit educational sector were the driving force behind a drop of almost 11% (-$36.8 million) in overall higher ed ad expenditures in selected platforms* in the first quarter of 2014. First quarter spending in the platforms being tracked was only $304 million this year, down from $340.8 million last year.

Leading that decline, for-profit college advertising dropped by $50.5 million, from $201.83 million in Q1-2014 to $151.31 million last year, a precipitous 25.0% decline.


The drop was not surprising given the onslaught of negative media and public dialogue surrounding congressional investigations over alleged legal violations of recruitment practices and misleading job placement reporting. The problems reached a peak with the very public collapse of Corinthian Colleges, Inc., one of the nation’s largest operators of for-profit colleges. Corinthian reached an agreement recently with the Education Department to close or sell at least 100 campuses this year.

Non-Profit Ad Investment Grows

By contrast, ad spending by non-profit colleges and universities (both independent and publicly supported) increased by a robust 10.6% during the first quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2013.

Under their own economic pressures resulting from increased operational costs in the face of a challenging recruiting environment and stagnant revenues, non-profit institutions grew their overall advertising buys by $14.45 million for the January–March period, from $136.61 million to $151.05 million.

In fact, in Q1 of this year, non-profits finally reached parity with their for-profit counterparts, with both sectors investing about $151 million in advertising in the advertising platforms being tracked.

Meanwhile, advertising by foreign institutions in U.S. markets mirrored the for-profit decline, falling from $2.31 million in Q1 of 2013 to just $1.67 million in 2014.

Internet Allocations Advance

The biggest losers in terms of total dollars were Network TV (-$16 million), Cable TV (-$9.2 million, and Local Radio (-$7.9 million), all favorite platforms of for-profit institutional marketers.



While Internet Display advertising saw a decline in actual dollars invested, the percentage of allocations devoted to Internet ads increased from 28% to 30.2%. And these figures refer to banner ads only and do not include Search Word, social media (such as Facebook), video spots, or the growing Spotify/Pandora marketplace. No question about it, Internet marketing is clearly becoming the preferred arena for higher ed marketers.

Outdoor advertising, historically a favorite for smaller-budget non-profit institutions, managed a 5.9% increase over Q1 of last year.


As the problems continue to mount for for-profit institutions and with the continuing economic squeeze facing non-profits, we look for the trends that became evident in the first quarter to continue for the remainder of 2014. As a result, non-profit ad spending in 2014 may overtake for-profit investments for the first time ever.

* Advertising data source is Kantar Media, which includes paid advertising appearing in media platforms being tracked in 210 U.S. DMA’s. Data does not include marketing salaries, admissions/sales salaries and costs, direct marketing, social media, website development/content, PR, publications, promotions, or equipment/operating costs. Data includes internet display ads, excluding social media advertising, search-word advertising, proprietary sponsorships, video advertising, and Spotify/Pandora ads. In some smaller markets and rural areas, advertising placements may not be comprehensively reported.

2 Replies to “For-profit Ad Spending Tanks, Non-profits Grow”

  1. Hello,
    I’m doing some research at the moment on US marketing spend and found this article very interesting. Do you have similar information for any other years? I’d be really interested to look at how things have changed. My email address is, it’d be great if you could get in touch.

  2. Thank you for this report! You mention that “Internet Display advertising … figures refer to banner ads only and do not include Search Word, social media (such as Facebook), video spots, or the growing Spotify/Pandora marketplace.”

    So, I’m wondering where in this chart Search, Social Media, Video and other online options are represented?

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