Skip to content
Ian Feil Dec 11, 2020 11:13:40 AM 4 min read

Advertising to High School Students: Insights from 187 Higher Ed Marketers

In the third quarter of 2020, Glacier surveyed 187 professional marketers at North American higher education institutions to gather a baseline understanding of their organization, the challenges their teams face and how the pandemic has impacted the social media and traditional marketing tools they’re leveraging today. 

Of 160 respondents, 72% hold a title of Marketing Manager or more senior. They represent a wide range of marketing budgets, varying social media channel performance and diverse target audiences. All respondents report using social media channels as critical components of their marketing budget.

Screen Shot 2020-11-25 at 2.14.03 PM


Paid Media Breakdown

Glacier looked at how marketers used social media, digital advertising, traditional media and print advertising before the onset of the pandemic, how they adjusted as a result and the overall effectiveness of each channel.

The top performing channel, TikTok at 86% reported effectiveness, is also the most underutilized channel at only 1.9%, indicating a very promising competitive advantage for savvy marketers who can leverage it. The second most effective channel is paid search advertising, at 76% effectiveness and only 54% use amongst respondents. Rounding out the top three performing channels is digital display and Google ads at 74% reported effectiveness, and a use rate of only 62%.

Overall Paid Media Usage

About half of respondents are experiencing marketing budget cuts of up to 25%. About 17% report reductions of up to 50%, and - incredibly - three per cent report budgets that are up to 75% smaller this year. A fortunate 15% report their budgets are the same as last year. Across the board, the challenge to marketers is to do the same or better, while mitigating the impact of the pandemic with the same or smaller budget as in years past.



The most underutilized channels (aside from TikTok mentioned above) are Snapchat at 9.5% with high an effectiveness rating of 64%, Spotify and Pandora at 13% use with effectiveness of 66%. It’s possible that the TikTok and Snapchat channels are underutilized because of their relative newness compared to established social media channels like Facebook and Instagram. It’s clear that marketers are turning more to Snapchat (60%) which may have more credibility and be better understood by marketers than TikTok, which no respondent increased their use of during the pandemic.

In terms of physical media, like transit ads, billboards and in-school posters, all of these were used minimally before the pandemic and saw only modest increases during the pandemic (22% for billboards and 10% for transit ads) while the use of in-school posters diminished by 22%, likely as a result of lock down measures that saw schools close for a period of time in the Spring of 2020.

WE see 2 key statistics that identify the increase or decrease in usage the app has seen during COVID-19, and the effectiveness of the channel in reaching target audiences as reported by higher education institutions.

Paid Media Matrix


Yearly Goals

Respondents to the survey indicated that their goals for the year included maintaining current numbers (60%), setting up for next year (56%), mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on their current marketing plans and targets (32%), and one respondent wrote in that they hoped to continue growing enrollment this year.

In addition to how marketers fine tune their approach to their digital channels, they must also consider the degree to which they’d adapt their strategy to an optimized mix of analog and digital components as a truly ‘hybrid’ strategy.

Overall, marketers are faced with a decision that is generally about how much they will integrate analog marketing tactics (in-school advertising or events, for example) with digital tactics (like student influencer marketing).


Events and Recruiters

About 90% of respondents reported plans to significantly decrease in-person student events during the pandemic, and 57% of respondents reported that they would leverage opportunity to send marketers in to schools significantly less this year. They indicated that they’d make up for the absence of this tried-and-true strategies with Zoom events (90%), one-on-one correspondence by text, call or email (75%), engaging on social media (62%), increasing digital ad spend (34%) and leveraging students as in-person ambassadors (27%).


Managing Digital Competition

While the majority of respondents are keeping the status quo of their domestic and in-state or in-province marketing initiatives during the pandemic, they are making changes to mitigate competition from other post-secondaries with increased budget allocation to:

  • Shift their messaging (41%).
  • Increase digital media spend (30%).
  • Expanded into new regions (25%).


Marketers are looking to virtual events and increased spend on digital advertising and social media campaigns to meet their targets and goals this year. Marketers can look to meet and exceed their goals during the pandemic by selecting a strategic partner to help them create and execute a pandemic-optimized marketing strategy that considers how to:

  • Continuously evaluate and fine tune social media spend and presence on channels that provide the best value for engagement and cost.
  • Minimize the impact of cuts to budgets and reduced resources.
  • Effectively integrate analog and digital recruiting tools.
  • Fine tune their digital presence and optimize budgets for digital engagement.
  • Leverage in-school opportunities to advertise and influence prospective students.

New call-to-action