Levelling up student ambitions.

Marketing Challenge

2020 was a write-off, especially for students. There was a sense of optimism as we approached Christmas, but the awful second wave of Covid-19 soon shattered this. Apart from being stuck at home again for the foreseeable, students felt uncertain about what the world would look like when they finished school.

With college applications lower than previous years, how could we encourage uncertain teenagers (and their parents) to consider University College Birmingham (UCB) for their future when things are so up in the air?

Turning Instinct into Action

Our market research pointed towards being relevant to our target audience. Being relevant meant the creative we produced needed to speak their language, and images should be authentic.

Being relevant also meant using borrowed interest. The famous phrase ‘Level up’ was positive and motivating to both our audiences and was being used on TikTok to the song ‘Level Up’ by Ciara.

We were inspired to develop our single-minded audience proposition, a clear promise that encouraged them to take action: Level Up with UCB.

With 88% of young people in the UK seeing themselves as creative, and with brands like JD, Spotify and Nike carving out a bold, distinctive advertising style, we knew we had to create a campaign that cut through the noise.

Our campaign creative used a range of confident 16-18-year-old models alongside neon style CGI props to represent UCB’s college courses and the headline ‘Level Up Your Ambition’. A range of executions were used to show popular courses such as sport, travel, beauty and business.

Our marketing strategy:

GET:  Driven, ‘hands on’ type students (and their parents) studying GCSEs who feel a sense of uncertainty about their prospects in a world gripped by Covid-19.

TO:  See UCB as the best choice to overcome any doubts about where they were headed in life.

BY:  Using a mix of paid digital media to encourage students to ‘Level up’ with a UCB college course.

Performance marketing wasn’t enough. We needed to build University College Birmingham (UCB) as a brand as well as drive college application numbers. Spotify audio ads, Google Display, user-generated content, TikTok ads and Facebook awareness ads were used to increase salience and memorability. Facebook consideration and conversion ads were used to encourage traffic and applications on the UCB website.

Campaign performance

After the first two weeks, it was clear that the user journey wasn’t as straightforward as UCB had hoped and attributing applications to a particular channel was difficult. We reported, managed and optimised digital media week-by-week, however as we were using a number of different channels, the most effective way of measuring overall success was the total number of college applications year-on-year. We smashed this target (and other digital KPIs)!


+56% vs 2019

College applications

905 Applications

During campaign period

2.3M+ Reach

(+81% vs target)

1.75% Average CTR

(+16% vs target)

“We were impressed by Big Cat’s understanding of our target audience and our offer, from the initial pitch, marketing strategy, to optimising the campaign. We invested in high quality, distinctive creative and photography, which we were happy with, and crucially, it drove our college application numbers year on year through a multi-channel marketing approach.”

Steph Gregan, Senior Digital Marketing & Web Content Officer

Stop, collaborate and list 'em

Styling and photography by Scott Lapidge. Digital strategy and performance marketing from the super talented Sally Haweksford and Kirstie Jones at SHC.

UCB Case Study (1)

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