Part 1: Videos that work: How effective is your promotional video?

Does your school have a promotional video? Multimedia is an increasingly important part of the recruitment toolkit, especially if you want to attract international students. More and more, students want to see, not read, about the institutions they’re interested in and they want to hear from students themselves rather than executives – and a promotional video can be a great vehicle for all of these interests.

Videos fulfill a number of purposes, such as:

  • showcasing the visual features of a school (e.g., a campus tour);
  • concisely but compellingly explaining the benefits of attending;
  • inspiring emotion among viewers;
  • presenting information in a way such that the viewer doesn’t have to work hard to access and actually enjoys watching.

In fact, Forrester Research’s Dr. James McQuivey estimates that one minute of video has as much value as 1.8 million words.

Videos can be posted in all the places students are – YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, regional social media sites, and the school’s website(s) – and they can be easily distributed around the world to students themselves or to education agents who may be helping them with their study abroad plans.

Study after study shows that consumers are reacting to promotional videos in amazing ways that other forms of advertising are having trouble matching. For example, according to the Online Publishers Association, 80% of American Internet users recall watching a video ad on a website they visited in the past 30 days, and of this proportion:

  • 26% looked for more information about the subject of the video;
  • 22% visited the website named in the ad;
  • 15% visited the company represented in the video ad;
  • 12% purchased the specific product featured in the ad.

Today, we’ll look at three videos that illustrate best and not-so-great practices in promotional video for higher education. Next week, in Part 2, we’ll spend some time looking at detailed tips for making your institutional video the best that it can be.

What to avoid when making promotional videos

As much as a promotional video can help your school achieve its goals, it can also be ineffective or even harmful if it’s not well considered. Too many schools today are making the mistake of trying to be too cool – showing their students clowning around but not much else – and you can question whether or not that approach really drives recruitment results. Certainly there is a place for unconventional approaches, but not to the point that entertainment value trumps real marketing impact.

Take, for example, this video below from the University of Rochester, which has students rapping about the university’s benefits. That the choice of rap will appeal to some prospective students is likely; that it will appeal to enough students (not to mention their parents) is more questionable. Moreover, the slightly angry faces of the performers, though they are only reflective of the “tough guy” persona of rappers, simply don’t help to communicate a positive feeling about the school. We are watching the rappers’ performance and evaluating it more than we are listening to the benefits being called out.

What to strive for in making promotional videos

A school’s promotional video should, like any other marketing tool, begin with a strategy that considers:

  • How can we best present the brand?
  • What is the core takeaway we want students to receive?
  • What is the action we want them to move closer to by watching the video?

For this reason, we review two exemplary videos to demonstrate best practices, along with a brief explanation of why we think they’re impressive.

Harvard University

This 16-minute long video (shown below) is actually a compilation of various shorter segments the university has used. The video starts with a montage relying on shots underlining the history and prestige of the university. But since this aspect of the school is so well understood across the world, at the 28-second mark, the video jumps to the faces of Harvard today – international and highly individual.

The rest of the video then highlights the multiple proof points of the university: the successful people the university produces (e.g. Tommy Lee Jones, Yo-Yo Ma, Mira Nair), the drive of the students there (e.g., the “cowgirl” rower who wakes at 5 am every day to hit the water), the way there are student groups based on traditions all over the world (e.g., mariachi, gumboots), etc.

By jumping between interview footage and dynamic scenes of people dancing, singing, rowing and otherwise expressing their passion and drive, the overall effect is that Harvard appears as the place for ambitious but exciting individuals. It is clear that you must be a serious student to attend; it’s also clear that the university makes room for a plethora of different personality types and backgrounds.

The Harvard video manages to be aspirational and accessible, serious and fun – and at no time is there any deviation from the core brand expressed in all other Harvard materials.

University of Pennsylvania

This is one of the most on-target strategic videos we’ve ever seen; it does a phenomenal job of laying out its message to prospective students without being pedantic, and it has a ton of emotion and authenticity.

In the video below, we hear a handful of students talk about what it was like to get admitted to the university – we feel their fears of rejection and we feel their joy and sheer excitement when they describe receiving their letters of acceptance. We hear them talk about what education means to them and their families, and we also come to understand that these are not students from privileged financial backgrounds. The students are exuberant, eloquent, and strike the perfect tone – informal but classy, accessible but also role models.

Prospective students watching the video cannot help but relate and feel how excited they themselves would be to get in to a school like Penn. They are given these messages, loud and clear:

  • Getting into Penn is an incredible achievement and feeling;
  • There are financial supports available for those who need them;
  • They will be welcomed into a close-knit and caring community.

The call-to-action? Apply. As one student in the video says, “I shot for the moon and I got the moon. Sometimes you get the moon!”

What about you?

Are there any promotional videos you’ve seen lately that you consider best-in-class? Share your story in the Comments tab below or write to us at icefmonitor[at]icef.com. And be sure to read Part 2 for our seven substantial tips for getting the strategy right for your video, from initial inspiration to creation and through to distribution and continual enhancements.



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8 thoughts on “Part 1: Videos that work: How effective is your promotional video?

  1. Pingback: Part 2: Videos that work: What’s your strategy? | ICEF Monitor - Market intelligence for international student recruitmentICEF Monitor – Market intelligence for international student recruitment

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  4. Dan Silverman on said:

    Congratulations on your outstanding article on “How effective is your promotional video?”
    The video for St. Anne School, Laguna Niguel CA is in a league of its own, and meets all the criteria that you articulated. Link below. And thanks for watching and sharing.

    https://vimeo.com/73265228

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  6. Pingback: Show me: Students want evidence their degree will lead to success - ICEF Monitor - Market intelligence for international student recruitment

  7. I love your ICEF articles. I work in international education for a private high school in North Vancouver, Canada, called Bodwell as the IT Manager for Community & Marketing. However, on this particular article I’d like to make the following points:

    1. The hip-hop admissions video for University of Rochester doesn’t have to be the only promo video for the institution. I’m sure they have some other more conventional ones but this one is aimed at a certain target audience e.g. high school students looking for a cool uni to study at. I think you’re comparing chalk and cheese here.

    2. According to YouTube, the rap video is doing much better than the other two for views and number of likes.

    3. The videos for Harvard (2010) and Penn (2008) are old and stale in my opinion. They were filmed in low res quality and are in need of a big update + they are way too long at 15 and 7 minutes for a promo video.

    Bodwell’s official promo videos are here in case you want to critique them for us 😉

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Uc5MVkt6uQ
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhAmiyactj0

  8. Pingback: Five ways to fine tune your marketing this year - ICEF Monitor - Market intelligence for international student recruitment

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