After what has been a well-documented difficult eighteen months for young people, this month, students have been returning to universities up and down the country as campuses re-open and Freshers’ Weeks begin. Many will have been caught up in the pandemic A-levels fiasco, whilst others will have already begun their university experience with online learning, little face-to-face contact and the mental and emotional strain that this brings.

Whilst government advisers have warned that Freshers’ Week festivities may bring about a spike in covid cases, students appear undeterred by the threat of a winter surge, with 2021 seeing a record number of young people accepting university places. With 87% of students planning to get vaccinated ahead of the start of term, students seem positive about the future; according to YouGov, 32% believe that it is unlikely new restrictions will be introduced in the autumn, versus 25% of the population as a whole.

the7stars QT national tracking study further reveals that Gen Z’s are the driving force behind current UK happiness levels with 62% of 18-25s happier than this time last year. Given this optimism, it’s no surprise that students are keen to make up for missed opportunities, friendships and experiences after a year of closed campuses. According to HiveMindMarketing, 52% claim that the pandemic has made them more intent on returning to a normal university lifestyle, whilst Redbus Media report that 63% plan to socialise more this academic year. Students have long been considered a distinctive and attractive target audience. As they fly the nest, many lack established relationships with brands, having moved away from the preferences of their families and parents.

In a new environment and in their formative years, they are open-minded and ready to form new brand loyalties. Research shows these are often long-lasting, with many remaining loyal to brands that they first purchased at university. With students more determined than ever before to get out, spend and engage with the world around them, this offers brands a great opportunity to capitalise on their optimistic spirit. With their appetite for experience, now is the perfect time to follow the lead of others – Nando’s, Red Bull, Wagamama, who in July ran a two-day student katsu curry giveaway and Papa John’s, who’ve recently collaborated with student favourite, Depop – who have entrenched themselves in student culture having recognised the opportunity, and start to initiate long-term relationships with this highly valuable audience.

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