Standing out and standing up.

University of Canterbury / Acquisition Campaign

Campaign Strategy, Digital Strategy, Content Strategy, IA/UX + Development

The Challenge

Facing a potentially significant drop in intake in 2012 following the region’s devastating earthquakes of 2010/11, University of Canterbury (UC) had more to overcome than the usual challenge of standing out and recruiting its share of new students from within a very competitive regional and national market. UC has unique strengths in some areas – for example, the College of Engineering  –  but has a full suite of degrees across five colleges that need to ‘get the numbers’ each year.

The core focus for much of Canterbury is now to rebuild and refocus. For UC it’s also about giving clear messages about what it does, how it does it, and why UC is vital for its region and stakeholders. The recruitment challenge therefore needed to be met with a realistic, frank, yet confident proposition. Simply stating that UC is still operating is not enough validating this in ‘customer’ terms, and showing how current students have coped and are thriving at UC, were an essential factor this year.

The challenge was to drive enrolments among final-year high school students, especially from Christchurch and the Canterbury region. Validation around ‘new barriers’ was critical – as was the need to better engage with potential students right through their journey from consideration to application. A recent review had identified the need to support key audiences in prime channels more deliberately. The UC website, for example, was underpowered as a sales tool, and lacking in appeal for the target audience of 17- to 18-year-olds.

The Solution

The UC campaign embodies our belief that access and insight make a world of difference. The UC acquisition campaign for the 2012 undergraduate intake launched with a media schedule focused heavily on the local catchment. It uses digital as a strong central element, but also uses outdoor media and print. Students can see the goals, lives and experiences of current students, and get an inside view of the diversity of colleges, the passion of teaching staff, the calibre of facilities, and student learning, living and Campus experiences.

As an integrated campaign with a microsite at its heart, the interaction model is built on and around the real-life experience of UC students. The stories of seven current students are told in a short video format, shot in a direct and authentic style to best capture their individual voices. These are augmented by a series of short vignettes exploring particular aspects of student life at UC, and by videos of UC lecturers. The campaign allows for a user journey that meets potential students’ needs at three core stages URLs, QR codes on media placements, and digital advertising offer access to a rich digital experience that encompasses all the essential information about UC, using peers in frank and grounded situations to show it like it is.

The three stages of the campaign to encourage students to study at UC are:


  • ATL, mostly outdoor for reach and communication of headline messages.
  • Online advertising, using a mix of Flash and video creative (including TVNZ OnDemand).
  • Natural search, through a large body of video content hosted on YouTube.
  • Viral appeal, primarily through audience sharing content on social networks.


  • Rather than deploy typical ‘voice of the brand’ content, we built the Microsite around the ‘voice of our students’, told almost entirely through video.
  • The addition of shorter vignettes featuring students and lecturers was a cost-effective way of significantly increasing campaign content. It made for a fuller, more interesting experience on the Microsite, and boosted natural search on YouTube and Google as a discovery mechanism, extending the impact of the campaign well past the few months of ATL.


  • While student voices are at the forefront of the campaign, the Microsite also offers light UC content about studying, enrolment and accommodation.
  • This combination of personal and practical approaches was designed to drive as much traffic as possible to the UC website and, ultimately, to stimulate the number of enrolments received there.

Social Media integration

  • All video content hosted on YouTube for ease of sharing to websites and social networks. Other benefits include immediate indexing on Google, and zero hosting costs to the client.
  • Integrated Facebook discussion onto the Microsite.
  • Short video vignettes offering more shareable appeal.
  • Post to Twitter and Facebook integration.

Key considerations: A recruitment campaign and multi-stakeholder engagement platform were required to ensure numbers for the second semester of 2011, for business continuity and for setting a platform for 2012 UC recruitment. Undergraduates were the prime focus, with special emphasis on protecting the ‘local’ catchment.

Segmentation: Prospective undergraduates and their influencer groups; media and staff.

Media: Press and outdoor, bus backs and bus shelters. The core deliverable was a digital engine and social strategy to allow prospects to access ‘real peers’ and see the ‘under-the-hood’ workings of UC. This was supported by PR and collateral, and the liaison team at UC.


The Result

The engagement experience is upfront, real, personal, transparent and resolutely peer led. Potential students can see the accessibility and diversity of lecturers, as well as the open spaces and open-mindedness of UC and Christchurch as a city. There is high student engagement in and on Campus. Staff engagement has also been high. It is still too early to gauge target student acquisition.

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