Notre Dame De Namur University, a private, Catholic institution located in Belmont, Calif., has mastered the art of the clever slogan and the double entendre in its newest campaign targeted at adult learners. Initiated last fall, the campaign, which includes newspaper, bus, web banner, and radio ads, seeks to bring awareness to NDNU's degree completion program and graduate and credential programs.
"Targeting this audience requires a completely different marketing mindset than working with undergraduate students," says Margot Frey, NDNU's director of admissions for adult programs. "We've always had a comprehensive undergraduate marketing campaign but now we have decided to turn more attention to our growing adult population," she says.
Considering that more than half of all higher education enrollments are part-time and students aged 35 and older are the fastest-growing group of part-time students, according to a study conducted by The University Continuing Education Association in 2002, adults are a worthy audience to target.
As it is, about 50 percent of NDNU's students are adult learners. "Adult learners have major life responsibilities outside of school through their work, home and community. They need to have a program in the evening that will work for them," Frey says.
To further boost its adult student enrollment, NDNU approached Moxie, a creative marketing agency based in San Francisco to create a strategic, yet innovative campaign. With a tagline of "NDNU: The Cure for the Common School" and the catch phrase "Be HEARD, not one of the herd," the ads seek to appeal to this non-traditional student population.
The print slogans, according to Keith Moore of Keith Moore Associates, a marketing consultancy firm based in Maryland, specializing in higher ed, are the campaign's strong point. "NDNU, which competes with several large universities, instantly establishes that it gives individual attention in small classes," he says. "The tagline is catchy, particularly for a school with the name Notre Dame de Namur University. That institution's name is anything but common, but the tagline makes it appear both purposeful and distinctive."
However, the images illustrating the differences between HERD and HEARD received some criticism. "The photo illustrating 'HEARD' isn't reflective of the ad campaign's focus or goal which is to show a responsive and highly qualified faculty and environment where students are treated as individuals," says Sherrill Kushner, a parent of a college senior. "The ad would be significantly stronger if the photo showed a dialogue between a student and teacher in a small classroom setting to get across the idea of intimacy and involvement that is missing in larger institutions."
The web banner ads, says Josie L. Collier, a college counselor at Collier & Associates, based in Virginia, are not as effective as their print counterparts. "Recent research has shown that Internet banners are not productive," she says. Furthermore, she says they are not congruent with the university's slogan.
"Any California university could run a headline 'Complete Your Degree in the Evening' or 'Earn Your Teaching Credential.' The banners need to read 'Earn Your Teaching Credential in a Smaller, More Personal Setting.'" In addition, the ads are also lacking contact phone numbers and a website URL, which are both important information sources for interested students. Also, adult students might wonder if online classes are available.
The radio ads too have their niche. Allison Jackson, an adult learner who attends the College of Charleston (S.C.) part-time, is a believer in the effectiveness of the radio medium. "Radio advertisements are a good way to get messages out, especially during the morning commute," she says. "It was a radio advertisement for adult student learning that gave me the confidence to go back." However, Jackson felt the ads could have offered more information on the types of courses offered or whether NDNU offered online courses.
But NDNU must be doing something right--Frey says inquiries about the school are soaring. The number of inquiries about graduate programs and night courses is up seven percent compared to last year around the same time. Also, the "for future students" pages, which are accessible from the homepage, have gotten about 66 percent more page viewings than last year.
Most impressive, Frey says, is the number of people who have actually typed in the web address versus searching for the university on Google. That number is up about 70 percent since last year. "That number is very powerful. It is a huge measure of our advertising success," she says.