COVID-19 On Campus: A Reflection On Campus Marketing in 2020 and Predictions for 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the lives of people around the world. This has been especially true for college students.

So much of the traditional college experience hinges on interpersonal connections and shared spaces. But, given the nature of the COVID-19 virus, colleges and universities have had to take things in a drastically different direction without much warning. Institutions have been forced to adapt to a new normal, which put the health and safety of students first. 

In-person classes were replaced with Zoom lecture marathons and countless hours in front of dual screens; crowded dining halls and student unions were forfeited for virtual events and distanced social interactions; and much more.

As you can imagine, these sudden changes also drastically impacted campus marketing efforts. At YMC, we adapted our campus marketing strategies to engage students no matter where they’re living, studying, and sharing in 2020.

With 2020 in the rear view mirror, we wanted to share some of the valuable things we’ve learned and our predictions about what campus marketing will look like in 2021.

Every School Is Different

After unexpected school shutdowns in the spring 2020 semester, colleges and universities had a bit more time when strategizing their opening plans for fall 2020. One of the main things we noticed was the wide variance in the operating status of campuses based on state, local, and university-driven COVID-19 regulations.

Leading up to the fall semester, we referenced The Chronicle of Higher Education’s list of campus reopening models daily to stay on top of the national landscape. On the local level, we found that our YMC student network and ambassadors provide the most accurate information regarding students’ locations (living remote, on, or off campus) and behaviors. 

We’ve leveraged this information to adapt our campaigns in real time and adjust expectations by campus. We always treat each school individually when managing college marketing programs; and in this situation, input from students helped us optimize what we could safely execute for the best results. 

Maybelline No Touch Product Sampling Example

“No Touch” Sampling Can Be Highly Effective

As we studied the varied reopening plans for the fall 2020 semester, we found that many campuses selected to offer adjusted in-person or hybrid learning models. In these cases, we found that working with local students to understand the protocols associated with activating on campus, the access level to students, and the overall comfort with face-to-face (always masked) interactions has been beneficial.

For our Maybelline program, we worked with college ambassadors to distribute pre-packed product sampling bags and gifts to on- and off-campus housing complexes and outdoor gatherings. This varied from pre-COVID interactions where Maybelline ambassadors offered students high-touch product interaction and trial experiences. 

Because in-person brand interactions were so limited in 2020, students expressed increased excitement and appreciation for Maybelline’s efforts to reach them during a difficult time. Product sampling bags reached thousands of students and resulted in over 10k product link views and a 5% conversion rate to purchase.

Pentel Digital Event Example

Digital Events Work

Digital events have also been successful, as they’ve enabled our brand partners and ambassadors  to provide brand experiences to broader audiences.

We found that college students are most likely to participate in events hosted after 7 PM EST on weekdays and early-to-mid afternoon on the weekends. Digital fatigue is real and this timing provided students with a break in between classes and another virtual activity. Meeting platforms (such as Zoom and Google Hangouts), microsites, and Instagram Live have offered the best interaction with this audience.

In our work with Pentel, we transitioned a longstanding in-person art experience into an online format and encouraged students to relax and create in their own space. We partnered with Pentel to host a 3-night Pentel Sketch Session event series featuring calligraphy, watercolor, and line drawing classes with featured artists. Hosting these events digitally allowed Pentel to bring in experts to showcase skills and answer art-related career questions with college students at scale. 

@hikari.murakami

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♬ 100% Real Love – PopUpGirl

Social Media Is Essential

While Gen-Z has been using TikTok for a few years, the pandemic and stay-at-home culture have accelerated mass adoption and endless scroll time on the platform. We found success in encouraging ambassadors to leverage short-form video clips on TikTok and Instagram to further engage their followers and feature brand products. Students were able to amplify existing brand challenges or create their own by pulling from the latest trends.

Our brand ambassadors played an important role in the launch of Aerie’s first TikTok challenge. The #AerieRealPositivity hashtag challenge created a movement around expressing yourself and sharing positivity at home. With the amplification of a paid campaign and celebrity role model support, this campaign generated 6,600+ user-generated videos with 2.1 billion views. 

Looking Ahead at Campus Marketing in 2021

As you can see, we’ve learned a lot in 2020. And, while the pandemic isn’t over yet, we’re feeling an increased sense of optimism about the year to come. 

Now that colleges and universities have more than 10 months of prevention and testing experience under their belts and the COVID-19 vaccine is in early stages of distribution in the U.S., some institutions are preparing for an increase in in-person and hybrid course offerings this spring.

As we begin planning for this year (and beyond!), we wanted to share a few predictions about what campus marketing may look like in 2021. Please note that the following are subject to national, state, and local policy, as well as CDC guidance.

January – March 2021

The early part of 2021 will likely look very similar to the past few months, with limited in-person events and classes.

Late March – April 2021

In the late months of the spring 2021 semester, we expect campuses with in-person and hybrid learning models to begin to explore the possibilities of holding outdoor, in-person events and activities. This will likely be especially true at warm weather schools in the South and West regions of the U.S..

Fall 2021

The fall 2021 semester presents the best opportunity for a potential return to “regular” campus life. At this time, it’s likely that the health and safety precautions introduced in 2020 will remain at the forefront for the next several years.

In summary, we recommend that brands continue to lean on digital events and social tactics to engage students in the early part of the year. As the weather starts to get warmer and students spend more time outdoors, “no touch” sampling can resume and the possibility of highly regulated in-person events can be explored. The summer months should allow for more in-person brand engagement, while full-on experiential activations, mobile tours, and student-led events are more likely to return in the fall 2021 semester.

How YMC Can Help

If you’re interested in learning more about college marketing during this unique time, we’re here to help. At YMC, we’ve been connecting brands with 15- to 29-year-old consumers for two decades—we’d be happy to share our wealth of knowledge with you. Contact us today!

Meet Our First-Ever YMC Student Scholarship Recipients

At Youth Marketing Connection (YMC), we’re proud of the work we do to connect some of the world’s best brands with today’s Millennial and Gen-Z consumers. But, if you ask us, we take even more pride in the unique learning and development opportunities we’re able to offer to the incredible students we work with on a daily basis.

As a way to give back to these students, we made the decision to launch the YMC Student Scholarship program at the end of 2019. The scholarship recognizes students in our network who excel in both their marketing program and, more importantly, in their efforts to positively impact their community.

A few months ago, we selected our first-ever scholarship recipients and we’re thrilled to officially introduce you to them today! Meet Jordan Dockery and Nazirah Ahmad.

Nazirah Ahmad Headshot

Introducing Nazirah Ahmad

Nazirah Ahmad is a junior at Howard University. She majors in public relations and has a minor in community development. Nazirah currently works with YMC as a student ambassador. Here’s our interview with Nazirah!

What sparked your interest in marketing and brands?

In high school, I worked with the student council and gained experience in logistics, communications, and community relations. This experience led me to study communications in college. I’m now a Public Relations major at Howard University.

Additionally, through my more recent involvement in various organizations and internships in the D.C. area, I’ve found a love for marketing, branding, and effective communication.

What have you learned by working with YMC as a student ambassador?

During the fall 2019 semester, I simultaneously took my core public relations courses at Howard and worked as a student ambassador for YMC. This timing allowed me to draw correlations between what I was learning in class and the strategies I was executing in my program.

My courses and YMC program experience taught me a lot about PR, marketing strategy, and the use of social media and events to target specific audiences.

Please describe the work you do to make your community (and the world!) a better place.

I’m personally devoted to fighting for equity in education. I’m passionate about this particular cause because I grew up as a low-income, high-achieving student. If not for my supportive family and the encouraging educators and mentors I interacted with during my formative years, I would not be in the position I’m in today. 

I believe that education is, without a doubt, the key to empowerment, so I’m devoted to making sure that it’s equitable for every student. To fulfill this mission, I’ve involved myself in a number of education-related activities. The following are a few of note:

  • I assist in classrooms through my work as the programming intern at Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science
  • I’ve worked as a teaching fellow for Breakthrough Collaborative in Houston, TX, where I taught writing skills and a newsletter elective to eighth grade students
  • I developed a social media campaign to persuade policymakers to fund community schools during my time as a communication and marketing intern for the Coalition for Community Schools at the Institute for Educational Learning
  • I led a team of people through educational community service activities during an alternative spring break trip to Detroit, MI

What are your life and career goals?

Following graduation, I plan to teach ELA in a middle school classroom. And, eventually, I’d love to become the director of communications for a school system.

Ultimately, I plan to continue to fight for equitable education for all students and I hope to serve as a mentor and an inspiration for black youth. 

How has the YMC Student Scholarship helped you to achieve these goals?

The YMC Student Scholarship has helped me achieve my goals by allowing me to continue my career at Howard University!

Introducing Jordan Dockery

Jordan Dockery is a junior at DePaul University. She majors in communications studies and has a minor in women’s studies. Jordan worked with YMC as a college ambassador in 2019. Here’s our interview with Jordan!

Jordan Dockery HeadshotWhat sparked your interest in marketing and brands?

Growing up, I was obsessed with every aspect of the online beauty community. I watched countless makeup tutorials, hauls, and beauty product reviews on YouTube. My initial interest in marketing and brands was sparked after watching beauty YouTubers promote specific brands, use affiliate links, and create entirely-sponsored videos. I found the concept of using non-traditional platforms to market products incredibly smart, and it inspired me to pursue a degree in communications.

What have you learned by working with YMC as a student ambassador?

As a student ambassador with YMC, I learned how to create content to best fit a brand’s overall image, while also still staying true to my creative vision. I also learned how to utilize my online presence to promote products I loved to my followers and friends.

Beyond content creation, my experience as a YMC student ambassador expanded my knowledge of how to increase brand engagement through social media and on-campus events. It taught me to think outside the box and work in a technology-driven world.

Please describe the work you do to make your community (and the world!) a better place.

Both of my parents work as consultants for various non-profit organizations and I was raised to believe that giving back to your community was the most important thing you could do with your life.

As a member of the Delta Gamma Fraternity, I aim to uphold the organization’s motto—”Do Good.” I complete my Delta Gamma service hours by volunteering for various Chicago organizations. The following are a few examples of how I give back:

  • I serve meals to the wonderful and kind people at St. Mary’s Little Sisters of the Poor
  • I also volunteer at The Chicago Lighthouse, where I host coffee clubs and holiday parties for those who are blind or visually impaired
  • I provided beauty products to members of DePaul University’s LGBTQ+ organizations like Spectrum, Gender?, and Queer People of Color (QPOC) at my ambassador program events

Volunteering to serve meals to those in need and working with those who are visually impaired has taught me that even small acts of service can create a better world. Through my volunteer experience, I have formed friendships with members from both St. Mary’s and The Chicago Lighthouse. Now, when I visit these organizations, it no longer feels like volunteer work. Instead, I feel like I’m going to see and help out my friends. 

Finally, it felt great to have the opportunity to give back to DePaul University’s LGBTQ+ organizations as part of the my ambassador program. This is a cause that’s very close to my heart because, as a queer woman, a life goal of mine is to make makeup more accessible and representative of all people.

My sorority sisters and I continue to volunteer at these organizations even after our service hours are completed, and Delta Gamma has been repeatedly recognized and awarded by DePaul University for our volunteer work. 

What are your life and career goals?

My dream career would be to work on the marketing team of a large beauty corporation.

Aside from my career, I’m most passionate about diversifying and breaking boundaries in the beauty world. As a plus-size queer woman who loves beauty, I’ve always found it challenging to feel seen or represented within the beauty world—I want to change that for others. So, another goal of mine is to serve as an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, POC, and all ages and genders in the beauty community.

How will the YMC Student Scholarship help you to achieve your goals?

The YMC Student Scholarship allows me to have financial stability while completing my degree. My education is crucial if I want to make my dream career a reality. 

I’m beyond grateful for my amazing experience as a college ambassador with YMC and could not be more thankful for this scholarship. Thank you to everyone at YMC, especially Eve Sorkin, for introducing me to the agency.

My time as an ambassador has given me professional networking contacts within my desired industry, incredible resume experience, and life skills that will stay with me forever.

Congratulations!

Congratulations again to our first-ever YMC Student Scholarship recipients Nazirah Ahmad and Jordan Dockery. We’re lucky to work with impressive students like them each day and we’re so grateful for the ability to further support them as they achieve their goals!

Interested in applying for a YMC Student Scholarship? Then we have great news! The application for the spring 2020 scholarship is open until April 6. Apply today!

Introducing the YMC Student Scholarship Program

We’re excited to share some great news—we’re launching the YMC Student Scholarship program!

As the leading Millennial and Gen-Z marketing agency in the U.S., Youth Marketing Connection (YMC) authentically connects brands with today’s young consumers.

We pride ourselves on creating incredible learning and development opportunities for the students we work with—now we’re looking to take that one step further.

About the Scholarship

The YMC Student Scholarship will recognize students in our network who excel in both their marketing program and, more importantly, in their efforts to positively impact their community.

Beginning in Fall 2019, we’ll be awarding our first-ever YMC Student Scholarships. Each semester (twice a year) we’ll select two students to receive the award. Selected students will receive a $1,500 scholarship towards their tuition.

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible, students must meet the following criteria:

  • They must either work with YMC currently, or must’ve worked with YMC within the past 12 months at the time of application.
  • They must be full-time students. For fall semester scholarships, first-year students and final semester graduating seniors aren’t eligible. For spring semester scholarships, first-year students and students in their final year of school are not eligible.
  • They must have active involvement in a minimum of 2 on-campus clubs/organizations.
  • They must have a leadership role in at least 1 on-campus club/organization.
  • They must have a 2.5 GPA or higher.

How to Apply

If you meet the listed requirements, we hope you’ll consider submitting an application online! The application includes the following sections:

  • About You
  • Your School & Campus Involvement
  • Your YMC Work Experience
  • Content Creation Challenge (submit a blog, video, or Instagram/Snapchat story that shows how you use your influence to not only represent brands but also to positively impact those around you)

All applications for Fall 2019 scholarships are due by Thursday, November 21. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to [email protected].