7 Most Effective Media Tactics for Influencing Millennial College Student Voters

7 Most Effective Media Tactics for Influencing Millennial College Student Voters

March 7, 2016

college student votersWhat is the best way to reach college student voters when it comes to influencing their vote in upcoming elections?” That is a question that we get a lot at Refuel Agency. Now that we are knee deep in the presidential primaries, it is a hot and timely topic. For most college student voters, the 2016 presidential election represents their first foray into politics. Yet, the young adult vote has become extremely important for politicians – it can make or break a political campaign as we have seen in prior years.

Without the strong backing of young adults in 2012, Barack Obama would not be president today – that’s how influential this demographic can be in today’s elections. President Obama understood that in 2008 and then again in 2012, and so, it seems, does Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders, whose appeal, and support continues to grow among college millennials.

But unless you’re Bernie Sanders, political campaigns need to understand how to best engage, infiltrate, and influence millennial college student voters on today’s U.S. campuses. In our most recent College Explorer, Refuel Agency’s annual proprietary study, we asked students what marketing tactics would most influence them to vote. We limited responses to those who were unsure or unlikely to vote in upcoming elections.

Not surprisingly, 35% said social media was the number one way to reach, and influence, them.
Facebook, Twitter and more recently, Instagram continue to play a critical role for political candidates trying to influence college voter turnout. Facebook, in particular, is known for its ability to hyper-target to the college market – and according to College Explorer, over 75% of students visit Facebook at least once a week. Moreover, since the 2012 presidential election, the number of popular social media networks has grown — with platforms like Pinterest and Snapchat growing substantially. As millennials continue to make social media a critical part of their routines, candidates should as well.

After social media, television advertising is the second most influential tactic among college students, according to Refuel’s College Explorer.
Ads from campaign committees, super PACs and other interest groups are filling the television airwaves these days – but that’s nothing new. It’s estimated that political TV ad spending will top $4.4 billion for federal races this year, up from $3.8 billion in 2012, according to Elizabeth Wilner of Kantar Media. Candidates need reach – and television’s ability to reach large numbers of millennial voters, is hard to beat. Add in cable’s superior targeting capabilities (down to the household level) and its influence among this demographic, and television becomes a very efficient vehicle – especially for lesser-known candidates.

The third most influential tactic, and a must to reach college students today, is digital college advertising (not including social media).
Surprised? Probably not. Considering that college students spend over 141 hours per week with their digital devices, according to College Explorer, it makes sense that they would be receptive to ads found on the various digital platforms they use on a daily basis. In fact, digital political advertising continues to grow at an unprecedented pace. According to market research firm Borrell and Associates, digital spending in 2016 could top $1 billion, a 576% increase over 2012 levels – a staggering statistic.

After digital advertising, radio, print, place-based and direct mail round out the top 7 college marketing tactics (in that order).
As we tell most of our clients, an integrated surround-sound approach is the surest way to effectively reach the influential college millennial voter. For more on Refuel Agency’s College Explorer findings, the largest and most comprehensive study on college students of its kind, click here.