What our student insights tell us about diversity and inclusivity and what that means for brand success. Students make up one of the most diverse consumer groups in the world, yet this isn’t reflected in the advertising used by brands or education institutions. The ‘students’ we see in advertising still fail to represent real students – they’re not all fresh-faced 18-year-olds, white, beautiful and smiley. Real students are individuals; complex, multifaceted, different. But we often don’t see that in advertising, so how do students feel about this? Well, Student Hut and Natives found out. 

Over the last few years, we’ve been reaching out, talking and listening to thousands of students, from different classes, genders, races and backgrounds, to find out what it means to be, well, students. 

You’ll get the full run-through of what we’ve discovered in our experts’ session at Think Student Live Online but here’s a sneak peek of what’s to come. 

A brand that champions diversity is a successful one: 

We asked students how they feel when they see people that look like them in advertising; overwhelmingly, and unsurprisingly, students felt positive about this. They felt Included- part of something. The other key feeling this evoked in students was feeling motivated - so this is not just a positive emotion but one with action behind it - going on to engage with you further and take the actions that you want them to. 

Brands (and institutions) that have diversity and inclusivity in their advertising are likely to be successful ones. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s also an effective choice too.

Real people and real students is the way to do it 

Six in 10 students don’t feel represented by the advertising that universities use and 10% of students have never seen a ‘real person’ in advertising, i.e. not a typical model. The simple remedy to this? Use real students. In the world of UGC platforms, give them the camera, let them tell other students their story. The real one. Put their faces on landing pages and billboards, give your very own students the stage. Not only will you empower your diverse and inspiring student body, you’ll also motivate prospective students to join your community - because they’ll see that there is already a place for them. 

Disingenuous diversity is worse than no diversity

But none of what we’ve said here should be taken on as a token, tick-box exercise. Students can smell disingenuity from a mile off, so if you’re not going to live and breathe your diversity mission statement, don’t bother. 

Students from one of our focus groups told us that they have seen some brands now starting to post seemingly natural content with Black models, however, if you scrolled back in their feeds, there weren’t any faces of colour on their feed until the BLM movement. This sort of activity has the exact opposite effect on brand and reputation intended - it can, and will cause damage if you’re seen to be virtue-signalling. 

"You'll see them hastily post a black square and then a quick hashtag not to be seen as someone supporting racism."

Your institution needs to talk to your students. Don’t just post generic content and spill ‘politically-correct’ messaging because you think it’s the right thing to do, instead understand from the people themselves what they want, what changes need to be made so your actions are not just skin deep. Do it because it’s important. 

In marketing, it’s easy to start talking about targeting criteria like age or gender when trying to reach out to your prospective audience. But we can sometimes forget about the real people behind the marketing lists, who they are, and their feelings and emotions. Make sure you’re listening to your students, as these things are what ultimately drive their decisions. 

If you would like to find out more about what our diversity and inclusion research has found, and how you can implement these insights into your student marketing strategies and plans, save your seat at Think Student Live Online and hear from the experts yourself. 

Article by

Eleana Davidson Native Author

Eleana Davidson

Senior Marketing Executive