How to Target College Students on Facebook

Analysis of “Targeting College Students on Facebook? How to Stop Wasting Your Money”


Ever since Web 2.0 hit the mainstream, social media sites have been the trending topic on everyone’s lips. Whether it was joining one, starting one, or using one for commercial purposes, these burgeoning outlets for online communication have been at the center of, and arguably the catalyst for, one of the most exciting times for mediated interaction. Therefore, it is undoubtedly worthwhile and interesting to study the personal interaction on these networks. However, in recent years, as it became increasingly clear that social media networking was here to stay, businesses have begun to get involved as well. And so, a new academic and commercial interest was born: social media marketing.

Social media marketing is the process of using social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. to build brand awareness, equity, and interact with current and potential customers. These brands create pages, content, and campaigns centered almost solely on generating online buzz and eliciting user engagement. Many companies pour hours of effort and exorbitant amounts of money into their social media advertising efforts. However, who’s to say it is all worth it in the end? All advertising or marketing campaigns, whether online or offline, can be measured by the same thing: return on investment. Regardless of the specific goals of the campaign (i.e. brand awareness vs. directly resulting purchases), ROI can be defined as whether a campaign has achieved its goal(s), and if this achievement was worth the company’s spend.

For years, companies have been pouring resources into social media advertising without any real proof that it was contributing to their business. In addition, many companies use this medium specifically to target the ‘dream market’ of college students. In 2012, Hemant C. Sashittal, Rajendran Sriramachandramurthy, and Monica Hodis did a study that begged this exact question: Is Facebook an effective advertising medium to reach the college-age “alienated spectator?” And if not, how can a brand’s current online strategies be adapted to better reach this audience, and establish a stronger brand-user relationship? The answers that they found, and the advice that they are giving to businesses, are likely not something these businesses would like to hear.

To conduct this study, titled “Targeting College Students on Facebook? How to Stop Wasting Your Money,” the authors collected data from their students, as all three are professors at business schools throughout the country. The study was broken out into 2 stages. In the first stage, five college-level courses taught by a co-author were split into 2-25 student focus groups per class. While one co-author questioned the focus groups about time spent on Facebook and motivations for having a profile and going onto the site, another co-author transcribed notes on the sentiments the groups expressed. In this stage, the authors were looking to draw out common themes they saw surface among these users. The second stage was an open-ended online survey administered to a different co-author’s classes. The survey, which was emailed to 93 students, asked, “Tell me a little bit about why you use Facebook and the role you think Facebook plays in your life.” Of the 93 student solicited, 42 females and 27 males responded, a 60%/39% split, responded. These students’ responses were used as examples to reinforce the themes that were identified from stage 1.

After analyzing all of the data from the first stage, and compiling real life examples from the second stage, the authors drew a few different conclusions. The first of these was that the college demographic “accesses Facebook not just to connect with familiar people on their own terms but also to indulge in their voyeuristic, narcissistic, and exhibitionist tendencies” (Sashittal et al, 496). Those who engage with Facebook to spy on others’ lives do so because Facebook is a low-risk, high-control medium. They are able to log on, and while avoiding any face-to-face interaction, “catch themselves up” on others’ day-to-day activities. “Narcissistic and exhibitionist tendencies” are thus classified as high-intensity users, and they utilize Facebook in a much more proactive way than those seeking a low-risk, high-control medium. Exhibitionists use Facebook as a platform for self-branding. They post images and statuses, share links, as well as complete other actions all to curate a very specific image of themself. In this way, they are projecting the exact version of themself that they want their friends and followers to see. This means that these users are also selective, and consciously exclude things as well. Narcissists use Facebook as “MeTV” (498). These people (and there are one or two in every network the authors claim) use Facebook as their own personal soapbox. They are able to broadcast what they believe to others that, in theory, believe they are important enough to listen to. In addition, they are also able to “seek validation to increase their own perceptions of self worth” (499). Thus, they satisfy an “inner narcissistic” need by posting their own thoughts, and an external one by receiving validation.

The second finding in this study was that this segment of Facebook users tend to multitask when browsing the internet and, in particular, when on Facebook. This means that users are “easily distracted and pay less attention,” and “are less likely to use Facebook to engage in product-related searches” (501). This means that the users in this segment that log onto Facebook, log on with specific goals in mind. These goals, coupled with the employment of severe multi-tasking, render the user completely distracted and nearly completely unable and unwilling to devote “cognitive energy” towards marketing schemes that brands generate. In fact, “not one of the participants reported buying a product or service as a result of seeing an ad or promotion on Facebook” (499).

In addition, the users who are classified as ‘Exhibitionists’ and ‘Narcissists’ actively compete with brands for attention. Those in a network with a Narcissist are much more likely to allow emotional involvement to “suspend disbelief” in regards to the Narcissist’s posts. The same people who believe what the Narcissists broadcast on the MeTV are also more likely to view brands’ attempts to market to them as “intrusive and irrelevant” due to the lack of emotional connection when compared directly to a Narcissist’s posts.

When asked their view on Facebook advertising, the three terms the participants used were, “stale, low credibility, and inordinately opportunistic” (500). Stale refers to the students’ observations that the advertising content was usually not much more than links to company Facebook pages or existing ads from different media outlets. In other words, companies didn’t think to design a new campaign for social media, and thought the users wouldn’t notice. This aligns with the next term the students used, “low credibility.” Many ads on Facebook, especially in the ad placements in the right rail of the page, offer up deals that are too good to be true, and often times are. These ads try to use click-bait lines to lure in unsuspecting users. This undermines any credibility the brand had with users by trying to mislead them—they are now noted as untrustworthy. The last term “inordinately opportunistic” also highlights this eye-rolling transparency for many users. The ads that fall under this category shamelessly use users’ information provided to Facebook to obviously target them in various ways. The example the authors give is that one participant changed her relationship status to ‘engaged’ and immediately began receiving bridal product advertisements.

Although the authors did not note this, it is clear that all three of these terms seem to have one common thread. This is that they all insult the intelligence of the audience. They assume that the transparent, old-fashioned marketing ploys they have been employing for years will go unnoticed with this new audience and on this new platform, which is just not the case. And this assumption, for a narcissistic audience, is a reason to disregard future advertising ventures. It is all of these points that allow the authors to draw their main overall conclusion: that Facebook advertising to college students is wasting resources and is mostly useless. However, not all is lost. With these findings, the authors have been able to make recommendations to enable advertisers to use the space to their best of their ability.

The authors suggest that to reach college students on Facebook, they should tailor their ads in accordance to the motivations of the users. These ads should appeal to the voyeur, the exhibitionist, the brander, and the narcissist. If it is not about the user, it is not interesting. Rather than taking a cheaper route and simply transferring ads for TV and print and posting them on their Facebook page, marketers should make specialized campaigns.

Effective Facebook ads will foster user-centered interaction, engage users emotionally and viscerally, and contain content that is co-created with narcissists. Students go on Facebook to comment, like, and view content that is relevant to their lives. Using one or all of the above criteria will catch the attention of this new generation of alienated spectators. These ads should be user-centered rather than the traditional brand-centered ads. With this in mind, marketers should be wary of the cynicism and shrewd ability of users to identify empty solicitations for feedback. One example of this happening was when The Gap used Facebook as a vehicle to announce the change in their logo. This marketing attempt ended in an adverse reaction of 200,000 angry comments from 30,000 users. The Gap should have utilized the interactive nature of Facebook and asked users what they thought of a logo change rather than just posting it.

Gap Logo

Engaging users emotionally and viscerally is important to get the attention of users who are multi-tasking. Users are not looking to learn information about a product but rather satisfy their voyeuristic tendencies. Like ads that are more visually focused rather than text-based, marketers need to appeal to the emotions of the user. A successful example of this is the Burger King “Whopper Sacrifice” ad which asked users to delete ten of their friends to get a free burger. It attracted users who were narcissists, branders, and voyeurs who were able to participate in this titillating and dramatic activity. With 82,000 participants, this ad understood that users wanted to engage socially and visibly when logging on to Facebook.

Whopper Sacrifice


Co-creating Facebook content with narcissists is important because the authors suggest they are leaders among social networks. Ads created around social trends like planking or owling provide an outlet for self-expression and to give narcissists and opportunity to show off to thei community. An example of a successful marketing campaign that engaged narcissists is a Corona Light campaign in which users who ‘liked’ the official page were featured on a billboard in Times Square. After users did this, Corona then offered the opportunity for users to post their billboard feature on their own profile page – both promoting the brand and themselves.


Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 9.48.03 PM Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 9.48.12 PM

The findings of the authors suggest that we are in the midst of a new creative revolution. Traditional ads on new media don’t reach audiences the way marketers want them to. Young people are media savvy and many ads on Facebook don’t acknowledge this. This generation is keen to the old ploys of advertisers and therefore disregard ads that do not change with the times. this is not to say that this group is unreachable – the success of certain campaigns can attest to this. They are still willing and excited to consume ads, but the ads need to offer something they have not before. Social media has changed the way people consume media so ads need to change with these new behaviors. Consumers are more interested in social activities that feed their narcissism rather than just consuming content. In a more fragmented world where it is more difficult to mobilize a large group of people, a different approach is required. Interactive ads that are centered on user’s narcissistic motivations will be the most successful on social media. Advertisers’ work needs to serve these motivations rather than just placing traditional ads on social media. This is perhaps why lifestyle marketing still remains so successful, they are transformative rather than informative. Ads on Facebook can take it a step further and work with users to participate in these ads.


Sashittal, Hemmet C., Rajendran Sriramachandramurthy, and Monica Hodis. “Targeting College Students on Facebook? How to Stop Wasting Your Money.” Business Horizons 55 (2012): 495-507. SciVerse ScienceDirect. Web. 7 May 2014.

-CL & JF



Targeting Moms: Minivan Commercials




In my video, I want to explore mom-targeted car commercials. The women in these ads are largely white, middle-aged, and eager to show off their empowerment through sexuality and consumption. They are stylish women who have it all while still maintaining a high level of sexual appetite and appeal. Advertisers are targeting women who are in their late 30s and 40s with high cultural capital, have kids, want to be cool and attractive, and are looking for a car that will meet these needs.


The ads I chose were created after the Creative Revolution, so there is an underlying self-awareness in each of them. The ads demonstrate “lifestyle branding” that tells viewers they can construct their identities through consumption. It speaks to a time when “consumers began to embrace consumption as an activity through which identity could be constructed” (Carducci). The identities created in these ads interpolate a woman who is seemingly empowered by breakthroughs gained from the sexual revolution to make her own choices when buying an automobile.


The ad called “Minivan Muscle” shows a woman walking into a car showroom with her husband. She is immediately interested in the minivan because there are two flexing body-builders inside it. The woman becomes overwhelmed by sexual desire and is oblivious to her husband’s efforts to distract her. She then has to be physically led away to look at other cars.


In the second commercial, one of two Cadillac commercials that I will examine, the song “Stacy’s Mom” plays while a mom picks up her daughter from school. As she so easily completes this task, the dads around her are literally paralyzed by her sexuality. The command with which she possesses her sexuality is attributed to the empowerment her car enables her to have. The Freudian lyrics of “Stacy’s Mom” implies that desire is held by the mom and not a younger, more traditionally sexualized female.


The third commercial, also a Cadillac commercial, tells its story through narration by Sofia Vergara. She beings by saying that researchers have found that cup holders are the number one reason women pick a car. She then explains that the Cadillac has a black leather trim and navigation system, something a ‘different kind of woman’ would want in a car. She is implying that a woman like her looks for these things – not cup holders- in a car. The dark colors, yellow street lights, speed of the car, and club music signify nightlife, youthfulness, and excitement. The use of Sofia Vergara and focus on her red lips signify desire.


In the first two ads, the actual features of the product are ignored or left to the end of the ad. There is very little that actually explains the utility of the product – a remnant of the Creative Revolution. Rather than being informative, they are largely transformative, showing examples of a lifestyle. The ads are vignettes of women’s lives who even when they are shopping for cars or picking up their kids can be turned on at any moment and are objects of sexual desire. By putting these characters at the forefront of the ad rather than the features of the car itself, it interpolates a woman who is always looking to be attractive, whose most important value is sex. The selling line of the second ad is “Beautifully practical and practically beautiful” which refers to both the mom and the car, saying that both practicality and beauty are equally important. This seems like a fair idea, but the discourse that a product can enhance a woman’s beauty is problematic because a true empowering idea of beauty has nothing to do with material possessions.


The third ad emphasized the actual features of the car more than the first two. Using a semiotic approach, this ad contains signifiers of sexuality, adventure, and difference. As Goldman and Papson explain, the use of Sofia Vergara has the sign value of a ‘hot’ celebrity whose connotations are then imparted on the ad and therefore the brand and the product. Through her celebrity image, she signifies exoticism and sex. This is coupled with the fact that she talks of the practical value of a cup holder with disdain. A sexy, modern woman like Sofia is disgusted with women who are practical. This value of sex appeal over utility can also be seen in the first ad. The body builders represent sexual prowess but their muscles are primarily used for show – it is a labor of performance.


The ideological tactics of the ads are very clear because they focus so little on the utility of the cars. I will use Goldman and Papson’s four points to discuss this. The ads socially and culturally construct our world by creating stories that closely resemble real life. These ads show that if you buy these products, they can transform you into the characters in the ads. As Messner and Montez de Oca explained, “…lifestyle branding goes beyond the reiteration of a name to actually creating desirable and believable worlds in which consumers are beckoned to place themselves.” It disguises and suppresses inequalities, injustices, and contradictions by giving viewers a highly constructed brand identity to consume. A humorous ad by Cadillac might make viewers forget the fact that Cadillacs are actually very expensive cars that most people cannot afford. These ads promote a normative vision of our world and relationships by putting heterosexual relations at the forefront (rather than other sexualities) and using a Columbian actress who fits all the traditional American beauty standards. They also reflect the logic of capital by emphasizing consumption. If products express identity, then a nuanced and changing identity will require constant consumption and the logic of capital is continually reproduced.

These ads should be exposed because they frame sexuality as the most important part of a woman’s identity. The women in these ads do not seem to care about the car itself, but rather how the car can enhance their sexual attractiveness. Since a car is such a big investment, it should be a thoughtful decision. The utility of a car is important if you are putting your kids in it. The woman in the first ad becomes fixated by the body builders and cannot even respond to her husband when he talks to her. She becomes irrational at the sight of these men. The women are shallow and care more about what the car can do for their outward identities rather than the features of the car itself. The second two ads are more problematic because they are framed in a way that seems empowering to women. In Goldman, Heath, and Smith’s article they say, “to signify feminism…advertisers assemble signs which connote independence…individual freedom, and self-control.” The Cadillac ads demonstrate this perfectly because it is implied that the women chose these cars on their own, exercising their individuality. Advertisers also “present feminism as a style – a semiotic abstraction – a set of visual sign values that say who you are” (Goldman, Heath, and Smith). So if you are a strong independent mom, you can buy a cool car to show that you are both a caring mom and a sexy woman. The ads use sexual liberation values from the sexual revolution to frame their ads as supporting feminism. As Goldman, Heath, and Smith explained, “meanings of choice and individual freedom become wed to images of sexuality in which women apparently choose to be seen as sexual objects because it suits their liberated interests.” Would an intelligent, independent mom become immobile at the sight of men? Would she care more about impressing men with her car rather than with her personality? Would she want a cool, sexy Cadillac and judge moms who don’t?


A web video would expose these contradictory ideologies by using comedy. It would be a short sketch of a lame looking mom who is trying to get hot dads by dressing in overly skanky clothes. She would go into a dealership and choose the most attractive salesman. She would then ask for the coolest, most stylish car, ignoring his questions about features and price range. Then the narrator (a sexy female voice) would say, “look for a car that adds to your sex appeal, not your reason.” This would be culture jamming because it uses all the same signifiers as a regular car commercial. It even uses the same channels of distribution. It would be presented alongside other commercials on the web, but with a completely different message. Culture jamming works to “achieve transparency, that is, to mitigate the asymmetrical effects of power and other distortions in the communications apparatus” by showing subversive and political ideas in a subtle way (Carducci). The purpose would be to make viewers think about the representations of women in ads. Are they fair? What type of gender stereotypes are used? How do they affect women? How do they affect women of color? Do these women seem irrational and illogical? Is that how women see themselves? Is that how women want to be seen? How do men react to them?



Radio Shack Super Bowl Commercial

This commercial begins with two employees in a Radio Shack store. One employee answers the phone and then says, “the 80’s called, they want their store back.” Then a deluge of 80’s celebrities raid the store, leaving it completely empty. The announcer then says, “it’s time for a new Radio Shack” and a shot of an entirely renovated Radio Shack appears on the screen.
This ad is very strong in terms of symbols. It interpolates the viewer as someone who is familiar with this “[blank] called, they want their [blank] back” joke, saying that something is stereotypical. This also shows that Radio Shack is familiar with their outdated image, hailing a viewer as someone familiar with this additional layer of the joke. It also relies on the fact that the audience is familiar with celebrities from the 80s. If someone were not familiar with the celebrities, they would not understand that they are recognized as representing the 80s. In other words, the viewer must be able to understand the signifier of a large blonde male in a wrestling outfit signifies Hulk Hogan.
The viewer would also have to understand that the DeLorean is a car from the 80s movie, Back To The Future. The DeLorean is the literal denotation that connotes time travel (so the 80s can take back Radio Shack). The DeLorean is part of a chain of signification, where it was first used in the movie because it was considered a luxury sports car, signifying coolness and high tech. After the movie, it was closely connected to time travel and therefore signified advancement and progress. Now, it signifies kitsch and 80s. This is all part of a cultural cannibalism that the 80s has endured. I personally only know a few of the characters in the commercial, but am familiar overall with the 80s aesthetic because of the cultural cannibalism the 80s have been subject to. There are so many media representations of how garish and over the top 80s pop culture is. However, this has caused a transformation in which the 80s joke was known by a select in-group (those who lived through the 80s), to pop culture at large. It used to be cool for those who lived through the 80s to be able to laugh about how over the top styles were, but now it is understood that the 80s produced big hair and bad movies by people who never lived through it.
This play on the 80s is part of the commercial’s ‘cool’ factor. It tries to use irony to point out that Radio Shack is in on the joke. They know that they have an image for being in the past and not updated, so the commercial uses that. They want to show the audience that they are self-aware and play on that fact. They openly point to their out of date image to catch the attention of a cynical audience and then quickly add at the end that they are updating. This is also part of the creative revolution in which advertisers recognized viewer’s skeptical perspective towards ads and incorporated that into the ads themselves. The ad also has a high production value, using many real celebrities to create a short story about the brand rather than just a descriptive ad.
This ad also uses intertextuality to create a synergy with the brand’s aesthetic. The viewer might notice that the store in the commercial looks like every Radio Shack store with it’s red and white design. The commercial is also inline with other Radio Shack commercials that have a very self-aware and witty tone. They also have a history of using 80s celebrities such as Alf.
This commercial fits the four ideological points. The first being that ads socially and culturally construct our world. This does this by showing viewers what they would expect when seeing a Radio Shack store. If they did not before, they would associate the old design of the store with 80s and the new design with innovation. Ads also disguise and suppress contradictions, etc. This does this by showing that Radio Shack is new and improved, however, this does not point out the fact that many of it’s stores are struggling or closing. Ads also promote a normative vision of our world. These ads do not show the other aspects of 80s culture, it does not show the underground or alternative characters from that era. Then ads reflect the logic of capital. This ad does this by putting together the Radio Shack brand and innovation, urging the customer to shop there because it is associated with progress and high tech.


Historical Analysis of Sprint’s “Everything’s Important”

This commercial stars James Earl Jones and Malcolm McDowell reading aloud the texts of two indecisive friends.

 As I mentioned in the previous post, this is a commercial that is very clearly reflective of the time we live in. To situate it in a historical narrative, I will talk about the content of the ad and the way the ad works to create a personality. This ad is particularly ‘of its time’ because it utilizes many of the characteristics found in contemporary ads. As discussed in class, this is they type of ad made for people who are very aware of ads and do not enjoy watching them or being sold something. To combat this, the makers of this ad used humor and wit to draw in the audience’s attention. As I stated in the previous post, the humor is uniquely self-referential and acutely aware. The casting of James Earl Jones and Malcolm McDowell is a clear cultural reference. To a foreigner watching the ad, they may not understand that these two people are canonized as great actors and would be lost on some of the humor. The casting of these actors is likewise a celebrity sponsorship or endorsement.


Another facet of this ad is that it seems authentic. I personally do not like to watch ads and this one is enjoyable to me. Although it is an ad, most of the focus is on the humorous content, rather than the product it is selling. I think this ad is also very contemporary because it’s content is text messages. Text messages are the primary way younger people communicate. This also speaks to the age we are in because it glorifies the everyday. Social media acts as a broadcaster of mundane activities and makes them seem relevant. This new type of narcissism that inconsequential details can and should be communicated with the world is unique to our generation. Media like Twitter that encourage us to tell everyone on the internet where we get coffee in the morning are part and parcel of this narcissism and go along with Sprint’s ad that says ‘everything’s important.” Sprint’s ad is fueling this phenomenon by using a ubiquitous text conversation disguised as “Chris and Craig’s Texts” to imply that they are using a conversation that has happened in real life. In doing so, they capture the attention of anyone who has found themselves in this situation and reinforcing it as important. It also communicates to the audience that if “Chris” and “Craig’s” mundane texts can be TV-worthy, so can theirs.


In terms of the advertisement itself, this one is less informational and more transformational. There is a high emphasis on the creative aspects of this ad rather than the product itself. It is more focused on the content of the video and only leaves a few seconds at the end of the commercial to tell the audience about the product. I am finished giving my attention to this ad the second the product information begins and I suspect many others have this habit as well. But after watching it, you know that it is a Sprint ad and you may come away thinking that Sprint is funny and has quality commercials. As I said above, this ad transforms the average texter into a celebrity, saying that even the most inconsequential conversation can be the content of a national advertisement. This sort of humorous, transformational ad is very specific to the past few decades and this ad beautifully demonstrates this.


Sprint “Everything’s Important” Ads

I especially enjoy this ad by Sprint because I think it is humorous and memorable. It is highly aware and self referential to its time. For its content, it pulls directly from absurd texts between two friends, unsure of whether they want to go out. It becomes humorous when read by two highly esteemed actors, James Earl Jones and Malcolm McDowell. The trivial nature of the texts becomes acutely apparent. Sprint further highlights this by titling the ad campaign “Everything’s Important.”

I believe this ad is a good example of the evolution of advertising. I have seen this ad many times and did not know the actual product Sprint was trying to sell until now. It is a new plan called “One Up” that is barely mentioned until the end of the spot. This ad works because it does so much more than just advertise the new plan. Instead it builds interest and reputation for a brand. It is part of a series that consumers can look forward to seeing other iterations of (from the same brand, of course). The ad also cleverly has the hashtag #honorthis attached to it.

In effect, it sells something other than what it is actually advertising. Much like how cable commercials are focused on selling ‘quality family time’ or how mattress ads display attractive couples cuddling, modern ads sell a brand or a lifestyle rather than the product itself. Ads have shifted from their earlier incarnations of being text based to being image based. Ads serve as inspiration for what a consumer wants their life to be, in this case by glorifying a trivial conversation that almost any young person has had.