Guerilla ads target students across campus

Erica Magda

Erica Magda

By Melissa Silverberg

Chalk messages all over the Quad, an Obama shirt on a student, signs on the side of the 22 Illini and even messages on the chalkboard next to notes in biology classes – all of these are ways advertising reaches students almost every moment of every day.

This mass advertising can be seen in countless ways around campus, showing that advertisers have moved on from traditional television commercials to other ways of targeting consumers in their daily lives.

“I think I see them every time I walk anywhere,” said Kristin Digilio, sophomore in LAS. “They don’t annoy me, I just don’t read them.”

One of these new techniques is guerrilla advertising, which can also be called stealth or undercover marketing and is designed to get people talking about a brand, said Michelle Nelson, associate professor in the Department of Advertising. It also is not very obvious that this type of marketing is a persuasion attempt, she added.

“Guerrilla advertising is a creative way to market to your audience so they don’t actually realize they are being marketed to,” said Kimberly Sugden, associate director at the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership.

These advertisements include chalk messages on the Quad, the Starbucks cup of another person in class or an ad banner on a cell phone above a text message, Nelson said.

Another way advertising reaches college students on a daily basis is through viral marketing, or word-of-mouth advertising.

“You could go through a whole day, and it is almost impossible to note every brand message students see or hear,” Nelson said.

While students see and hear so many ads on a daily basis, it is unclear how effective these ads are and how much attention students pay to the messages being thrown at them.

“The college age group are multitaskers and have become pretty good at ignoring ads,” Nelson said. “That is why guerrilla marketing and nontraditional strategies have become more popular.”

With ads for bus companies, notices for meetings and other advertisements on chalkboards of classrooms, some may feel that the impact of advertising can be a distraction in the classroom.

“I don’t think it affects learning. I think that especially this generation has been socialized to pay attention to many things at one time,” Nelson said. “If there is a flyer up on the blackboard then it’s not really hurting anybody.”

Sugden added that students tune out whatever media messaging they are not interested in, just like any other consumer.

Nelson said these stealth marketing tactics can be successful because people’s defenses may be down, and they may not realize they are being advertised to. An example of this can be seen through product placement on many popular television shows.

“It’s the ‘Carrie on Sex and the City smokes Marlboro lights and has a Mac and wears Monolo Bhlaniks, so I want to do that too’ mentality,” Nelson said.

Nelson added however, that since the young adult age group has been advertised to since a very young age, they look for more authenticity, making college students more “savvy” consumers who look for a brand that speaks to them personally.

Facebook has also started directing ads to its consumers in a personal way with targeted advertisements on its Web site. The popular social networking site targets ads by users’ genders, locations and other keywords from users’ profiles.

“It’s a nice way to get the message out without being invasive or taking up students’ time,” Sugden said.

Students may not agree that it is not invasive to target ads to their personalities; Digilio added that it is “a little creepy” when ads for her sorority pop up on her Facebook page.

Of the many ways to advertise to students, some agree that e-mail is the best way to reach young people today.

“I got an e-mail about a comedy show I actually want to go to,” said Max Woolf, sophomore in AHS.

Woolf added that advertising through flyers passed out on the Quad is not very effective because he just throws them away or stuffs them in his backpack.

“The heart of good guerrilla marketing is knowing your audience really well,” Sugden said.