Fully 100% of college students in the US have a mobile phone, and they use them constantly to communicate and connect. As such, mobile marketing becomes more difficult among this group because they see the devices as so personal.
A Ball State University study of a primarily female group of college students found that a majority of them had seen ads on their phones, including 51.2% of smartphone or touchscreen phone users and 61.3% of feature-phone users. Text ads were most prevalent.
Their reactions to ads were highly negative. More than 40% were annoyed to get an ad, compared with just 1.2% who were pleased and 17.6% who were neutral. Even more dramatic, nearly three in 10 said they were less likely to purchase a product after seeing a mobile ad for it. Slightly fewer reported their purchase intent was unchanged, but only a small number said mobile ads encouraged them to purchase.
A substantial minority of respondents (44.3%) would not be induced to receive mobile ads under any circumstances, but 37% were willing to accept them for something free in return. Free ringtones and music were the most popular exchange. In addition, almost two-thirds of all respondents said ads would be OK if they got paid to see them, and the largest segment of that group wanted at least $1 in return for each ad viewed.
Even the prospect of coupons failed to excite about one-half of students.
Among students who were interested in such deals, discounts for sit-down restaurants, cinemas and fast food were the top choices.
Students have softened little in their attitudes toward mobile marketing since Ball State’s previous research. In 2009, the Participatory Marketing Network found that even targeted text ads from companies they had relationships with were a turnoff for college students.
Still, college students are an attractive target for mobile marketers who know their audience is always on. Non-advertising marketing efforts like sponsored or branded apps may be seen as less intrusive or inappropriate, though about only half of the group has smartphones so far.
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