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Can Love Island & Netflix Inspire Higher Education Marketing?

Posted on Dec 20, 2018
Can Love Island & Netflix Inspire Higher Education Marketing?

Welcome to this guest post from Sarah Owen. Sarah is a Brand & Marketing Consultant with significant experience working for the the BBC, Channel 4 and on a number of youth broadcast initiatives. Sarah also helped us out on our most recent hacks. Here’s some of her insights into broadcast marketing and the synergy with promoting universities right now.

On the face of it you’d probably assume there’s not much in common between Big Brother and Higher Education. And yet, big returning TV brands like Love Island, I’m a Celebrity and the sadly departed Big Brother face similar challenges as Universities.  How do you cut through the noise to bring a young audience to your “show” and how do you approach the annual task of planning a predictable cycle with enthusiasm and innovation?

At Channel 4, we used to know what time of year it was just by what was going on in Big Brother land. Rumours about which celebrities were entering the house?  Must be nearly Christmas. Audition time?  That would be Easter then. A new bunch of housemates?  Well that’s summer, and the knowledge that the next three months would be taken up with daily trails, a close eye on the overnight figures and family members wondering where I’d vanished to.  I imagine it’s the same in the world of HE. New prospectus time comes round all too soon, right?

So, what are the five tricks from the telly trade that you can use in your recruitment plans, to make your figures proper peng* (definition below).

One: Over invest in content

Just this week the Head of Content at Netflix, Ted Sarandos said “The marginal cost of being wrong about it, by the way, meaning overinvesting in it, is not that high,”. Netflix know that by consistently refreshing their content pool they both attract new subscribers, and get existing ones watching longer.

Clearly Sarandos was probably talking about producing the next series of Stranger Things rather than shooting anothervirtual open day video but the principle of a multitude of content is the same. So how could you rethink your content plans to have a calendar of new short, sharp releases all year round to keep your viewers coming back for more?

Two: CRM is king

Whilst we’re on Netflix, they know the power of CRM.  A well timed, well worded email with a hot tip of the next big thing has often been the driver to me binge watching an entire series (sorry kids) and is where they’ve really demonstrated the impact of joining up smart data with marketing and content spikes.

This is the hot topic in most Universities as they wrestle with new CRM systems and processes, but if you can get something that delivers what it needs across allof the teams, the rewards are clear.

Three: Talk like a teen (but only if you know what you’re saying)

Love Island managed to invent an entire lexicon over the summer (including ‘proper peng’, which means “really rather excellent”) and the team at ITV2 seized on this to make a community of fans feel even closer to the action and part of the show by weaving it into social conversations and back into broadcast.

But it happened organically, from the contestants and community, not forced from the brand which could have felt a bit, well ‘vicar in trainers’ or ‘disco dad’.  How could you join conversations with your students about the things that matter to them, often led by your own student advocates,  in language that they can relate to?  (But this is important. If you don’t understand what you’re saying then don’t say it!).  And whilst we’re talking about language…..

Totes Emoje

There are tons of great examples of shows using visual, social-friendly language in their marketing to great effect, offering a sense of community and a time saving shortcut including the sweet Killing Eve emoji from BBC Three, and the original emoji-filled Deadpool poster from the film world.


These brands are talking the same language as their audience, giving them permission to be part of their conversations.  What are the shortcuts you could offer to your prospects? An open day emoji to stop them having to fill in a form?  Ditto a prospectus emoji?  How could an emoji help someone have a difficult conversation about their University experience or wellbeing (a study by Durex suggested that 72% of under 25’s find it easier to express their emotions via emoji’s)?

Five: Be more e4

If I’m ever stuck on a brief, I always ask myself – what would e4 do?   It’s a brand at which I spent many happy years going against the grain, with permission to try new things, and importantly permission to fail.

As part of the Channel 4 family we were actively encouraged to do it first, make trouble, and inspire change.   We used chatbots to give people behind the scenes info on Skins (before the invention of Twitter made that all a bit easier), deliberately launched the first series of an enormous comedy brand with a miniscule marketing budget to make people feel they’d “discovered” it themselves, and hijacked Big Brother one year from “the grown-ups at Channel 4”.).

So, where are the colleagues that will help you turn a good, crazy idea into reality? What are the small amounts of seed budget you can genuinely hold back for innovation? What can you do to inject some new thinking into your plans?   Get inspiration from surprising places and you could find that just like Big Brother you’re opening your doors every year to a new set of quality housemates.

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