5 (More) Great Higher Ed Marketing Campaigns

It may be a time of relaxation for many, but summer is when the marketing campaigns heat up and creativity soars in higher ed.

3 minutes
By: Chris Huebner

As we begin a new semester, let’s take a moment to celebrate the higher education marketing campaigns conceived, crafted and launched by some seriously talented marketers. 

It seems like a lifetime ago, but I still remember the assumption others had about what it was like for those of us who worked in higher education during the summer: no students meant that it was basically a time of rest and relaxation.

Far from it.

Depending on the area, the early parts of summer meant preparing for and supporting commencement. It meant the endless production needs of orientation and first-year programming. For those of us in enrollment management, it meant working at breakneck speeds to get senior and junior communications ready. For many other departments, it was the time to cram 6 months of planning into 60 days. But for every deliverable that really stretched the meaning of “end-of-day,” there was some incredibly creative work.

Here are five more creative higher education marketing campaigns that made waves in the industry this summer.

1. Lee University: Will You Dare to Risk Your Flame

This was one of those ads I found exploring Facebook’s Ads Library. I went over to YouTube to watch, and the title “Firebreather” and the image of the tennis play made me wonder exactly how this all would come together. 

Within the first frame the ‘click’ sets an ominous tone, yet it creates forced focus—a way to draw attention in an audio-on ad environment. What follows, is a truly compelling combination of narration—a poem—and the perfect blend of a composed voiceover and soundtrack that builds slowly to the perfect crescendo. This is a perfect example of bringing storytelling into a paid format. 

2. Purdue University: The Comeback

“Your strategy is showing” is an often-used phrase you might see if you hang out on Strategy Twitter long enough. Although 90% of the time it’s used as a knock against a particular campaign, there’s a small percentage of campaigns where that term is a compliment. 

In the case of Purdue Global, it certainly is. The platform so eloquently captures an insight observed in so many people looking to use education as a means of transformation. It feels real; it feels on brand—and dare I say—incredibly authentic. 

3. St. Cloud. State University: Be You. Be Bold. Be a Husky.

The importance of sound in ads, both to establish attention and pace, cannot be understated. Although it’s considered best practice to design for “sound off” social channels, sound is critical for lean-in media.

The use of sound makes the portfolio of short cuts produced from the overarching campaign compelling. The beat hits right from the start and maintains a mesmerizing rhythm, keeping pace with the quick cuts. This places the viewer immediately into the story, and one can’t help but maintain their gaze.

4. DePaul University: Here, We Do

Now that multiple ad platforms have opened up access to ad libraries for either transparency or creative purposes, it’s easier to get a sense of what is being published. And in the case of TikTok, what’s performing. What immediately jumped out at me was that there is not one single style of ad that continually outperforms the others. You’ll see brand anthems adopted for TikTok getting just as many clicks as influencer-style ads.

What I love about DePaul University’s Here, We Do campaign is how well it adopts a specific style but not at the extent of losing the value proposition. Approximately 10 scenes unfold that take prospective students directly to campus and build on the narrative that so much of Chicago defines the DePaul experience.

5. Columbia Climate School: Ambitions Minds

The click is more often than not the least likely action a prospective student will take. Yes, it’s great for the dashboards and even better for the KPIs if they take an action.

However, considering approximately 99% of impressions will not result in a click, using every element of an ad to tell a complete thought always sticks out to me. The proposition for this creative campaign is the opportunity to “join” a talent cohort of students working on the frontiers of climate science. A compelling message delivered alongside some creative animation. 

It’s hard not to understate the power of creativity. Depending on how you define creative performance, examination of case studies that incorporate creative awards as a variable routinely show that creatively-awarded campaigns tend to outperform those that weren’t.

As I wrote previously, how we communicate is an investment in brand building both in how we invest but in how we choose to express our brands. Once again, these examples show how creativity pays dividends.

Chris Huebner

Chris Huebner


Christopher Huebner is the director of activation at SimpsonScarborough. He has worked both agency- and client-side, where he has planned and executed marketing and recruitment strategies across multiple program types and institutions. His work has been published in the Journal of Education Advancement & Marketing, the Journal of Digital and Social Media and the Journal of Brand Strategy.

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