Marketing: Chasing future big spenders: Companies are recognising that student consumers may stay brand-loyal in later life

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The Independent Online
THERE are a million students in the UK, but as a consumer group they are notoriously difficult to target.

The main problems are that students are fickle, influenced by rapidly changing fashions, and lead a relatively insular life, which revolves around work, dating and drink - although not necessarily in that order.

However, as students have an estimated spending power of pounds 4bn a year, a growing number of companies are attempting to target effectively these consumers of tomorrow while they are in higher education.

One such company is Beatwax. It was set up by Chris Ward, who used to manage bands and organise tours to universities and colleges.

Beatwax began by organising university promotions for record companies, and this quickly expanded into video and film promotion. In the past two years, as companies have become aware of the value of the student market, the client range has broadened to include Bass, Cadbury and Virgin.

Mr Ward says that students are an ever-growing market. Universities and colleges of higher education are better attended than at any time in their history.

There has been a 20 per cent rise in enrolment in the past three years due to demographic changes and the trend for young people to opt for further study if they cannot find employment.

He is also keen to dispel the perception that students do not have any money. 'With student loans, they have as much money to spend as they ever did. They are just further in debt when they leave higher education. But it doesn't stop them spending money on the cliched things that students have always spent money on - drink, music, cigarettes and convenience foods.'

Despite students' spending power, Mr Ward concedes that perhaps the easiest way to attract them is through free products or discounts. One of Beatwax's most recent campaigns has been for tea producer, Twinings. It has distributed 20,000 herbal tea sachets around universities and colleges in the expectation that if students try the product and like it, they will buy it on a regular basis and continue to do so after graduation.

Golden Wonder has also run a promotional campaign for its 'Pots of the World' brand - which is a more exotic version of that staple student fare, 'Pot Noodles'.

Beatwax targets advertising and promotions at students on their home territory. Mr Ward says: 'They don't all watch the same television programmes or read the same newspaper - many of them don't read newspapers at all.'

However, 86 per cent of all students read their university or college publications. Beatwax runs ad campaigns in these and has access to other on-site media such as campus radio stations and poster sites.

There are also growing opportunities to use video. As many as 85 colleges have mass- access video facilities - large multi-screen arrangements in bars, unions, refectories and discos.

Nearly all colleges also have their own on-site shop, which is often the only retail outlet nearby - particularly on campus sites. Beatwax organises in-store promotions, point-of-sale material and marketing campaigns for clients to increase sales of its stocked products.

Much of the marketing activity that Beatwax produces is particular to the student body and other consumers never see it. Mr Ward points out: 'Companies can be more daring in the campaigns that they direct at students and often use more outrageous humour.'

The company has organised a cross-promotion for the latest Hollywood blockbuster, Naked Gun 331 3 - The Final Insult, and a number of sperm banks. Sperm banks are a traditional source of revenue for impoverished male students, and the film contains a scene set in such an institution. Beatwax is using this to advertise the film and to target potential donors.

'It is not something you could do generally, but you can be more controversial when marketing to students,' Mr Ward says.

While sperm banks do not expect to attract students after graduation, Mr Ward says smart companies are realising the value 'of getting them young' and retaining vital customer loyalty into salaried life.

(Photograph omitted)