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No excuses: College admissions campaign with a twist

Park University’s “Excuses” campaign pokes fun at students' excuses for not attending college
University Business, May 2015
“Excuses” campaign messaging appears on buses, a billboard, bar coasters and coffee sleeves, as well as on radio and the web.
“Excuses” campaign messaging appears on buses, a billboard, bar coasters and coffee sleeves, as well as on radio and the web.

Admissions marketing pros have heard a wide variety of reasons why prospective students don’t believe they can go—or go back—to college.

Park University in Missouri’s “Excuses” campaign, wrapping up this spring, takes an entertaining approach to breaking down access barriers. Promos poke fun at excuses that range from “no pens” and “no matching socks” to “you’re not much of a morning, afternoon or evening person” and “my thumb drive is full.”

Callers to an automated hotline (888-214-9941) can request even more excuses, with the option of connecting to an “excuse abatement expert” in admissions.

The excuses are meant to sound “absurd, incredibly lame, embarrassing and all-around mighty bad,” according to branding agency 160over90, which partnered with Park on the campaign. Besides Park’s own region, the ads target two metro areas in Texas.

“Because of the paradoxical and unexpected reasons given to not attend college, the campaign has proven to be memorable and makes a lasting impression,” says Rita Weighill, Park’s executive director of student marketing.

She adds that its “serious core” encourages students to review their own excuses and then explore how Park can remove the barriers to college by offering affordability, small classes and student supports.

It’s especially appropriate because of Park’s diverse student mix of undergrads, adult learners, active military and veterans, and graduate students who are “faced with the scenario of having to fit getting their degree into the rest of their busy life,” says Megan Pomplas, managing director of 160over90. The campaign entices with comedy and ends with empowerment, she adds.

In December 2014, a public awareness study found that familiarity with Park had increased from about 1 in 4 (in 2013) to 1 in 3. In addition, the number of people who would consider enrolling was up 35 percent from the prior year.

Campaign by the numbers, as of early April

  • Radio ads: 19 million impressions
  • Pandora advertising: estimated 790,000 impressions by June 2015
  • YouTube advertising: estimated 5 million impressions by June 2015
  • Outdoor advertising (transit and billboard): About 74 million impressions
  • Bar coasters: 250,000 impressions
  • Coffee sleeves: 1.9 million impressions
  • Excuses hotline: 273 calls

Source: Park University and 160over90

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