Trash Talk and Sales Gimmicks – WTF just happened during University Clearing?


Considering choosing a university is akin to making a big life decision like moving house and has over 100 factors that students will consider, you’d be surprised perhaps at some of the antics this year during clearing.

It’s a really exciting time for higher education marketing. Your clearing strategy will build on your campaigns throughout the year and help reinforce the decisions made by hundreds of students who are taking the next step into adulting.

Cue a few sleepless nights, extra gifs, student-generated content, fresh video edits and lots of real time communications across social to speak to students, many of whom may be feeling a little anxious if they are going through clearing.

A tweet from the University of Essex directly commenting on a post from Leeds Beckett University, who were promoting an additional route to find a course in clearing, took things down a peg or two.

Essex were being direct and honest but it didn’t really go down so well in the HE community. Granted, if you think about the use of Amazon’s Alexa for clearing – it feels like an additional few steps over and above just calling their clearing line, but at least they’re experimenting.

But is the sassy-pants Essex tone something that students would find helpful? It reminded me a little of seeing washing powder ads where a rival brand is named and discredited. It just feels a little tacky – particularly when you skip back to my point about this being a life decision and of course perhaps one of the first big one students are making for themselves.

I never really understood the giveaway, gimmick mentality within higher education – surely a focus on people, their individuality and needs, is the way to go?

That said, the pressure and competitive environment of university recruitment is soaring and its no surprise that now students are paying more for their studies, the stakes are much higher. Commoditisation at its worst.

But Essex are not alone. Google any university right now with the word clearing and you’ll see a paid for Google ad by a host of competing institutions (I’m dying to know how many students actually click on a totally different uni having just googled the one they’re looking for).

And delve a little deeper into social feeds and you’ll often see students tweeting at the universities they’re considering asking for help. Just two years ago I saw this first hand and where the other institution decided to get a little sassy and show off, our content approach was to be helpful and as existing students and alumni to offer advice on the experience. Guess which worked better?

So, this Essex example is more about finding the right tone and focus for your content strategy. And perhaps remembering if you don’t really have anything nice to say you should triple check whether it’s worth saying at all.

Photo by Paolo Nicolello on Unsplash