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Alternative marketing: Nanoscience boosted applicant numbers via TikTok ads

Branding — »If you're going to reach out to young people, you have to be in their place. And this is on platforms like TikTok,« says professor of chemistry Thomas Just Sørensen.

»Hello and welcome! Today we are at nanoscience … the study programme. And … umm … of course we have to wear lab coats, because we are going to mess with some fire here. Let’s do some experiments.«

Two young guys are popping around, waving their arms. They are both wearing safety goggles and lab coats and are trying to test who can make the biggest flame. A safety warning pops up with the text ‘Do not do this at home’.

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At the bottom of the one-minute video, there is a number: 102,900 This is the number of views the video has had since it was released on TikTok in July, just before the official application deadline for Danish quota 1 university admissions. The video can be seen at the bottom of the article.

How do you advertise for a study programme at a university that has banned the use of the TikTok app on all work phones?

The two guys in the video are Malthe Steffen and Jeppe Jaguar. They are influencers with a combined social media following of just over 56,000. They don’t study nanoscience, or any other study programme at the University of Copenhagen. But they perform as promoters of the study programme on TikTok, where the purpose is to attract new students.

The strategy of getting young people with a large social media following to advertise has been effective. The study programme got 15 applications in 2022. In 2023 there were 32 applicants for a bachelor’s degree in nanoscience.

You have to accept that the media landscape is different nowadays. We have benefited greatly from using social media. It is about drawing attention to what science is. And in a language that young people react to,« says Thomas Just Sørensen, Professor at the Department of Chemistry.

Marketing is many things

Thomas Just Sørensen has – by his own admission – a sinister past at the analysis institute Research International. In his student job there, he learned about focus groups as a tool to identify target groups’ immediate reactions. This benefited him 20 years later, when he decided to set up focus groups in the spring of 2023. As the organiser of an information campaign, he wanted to catch the attention of young people:

»The dumbest thing you can do is let a man in his 40s speculate on what young people want. So we set up focus groups with a handful of people from the target group and discovered that TikTok is clearly many young people’s preferred social media,« says Thomas Just Sørensen.

The campaign

Got a total of two million views on TikTok

Included 11 TikTok posts from 11 different content creators

Generated 191,400 likes

Got a total of 17,375 comments

At least 42 per cent of the total viewers were from Copenhagen

At least 41 per cent of viewers were in the 18-24 age group.

Source: Micky Creatives

But how do you advertise for a study programme at a university that has banned the use of the TikTok app on all work phones?

If you can afford it, you hire a marketing agency to take care of the creative part of it. And that’s exactly what Thomas Just Sørensen did. He teamed up with Make Influence, who reached out to Micky Creatives that specialize in making TikTok content.

»It was about breaking out of the normal setting. And in order to be able to communicate freely to young people, it had to be from outside the university. So we set up as a national platform. In this way, the University of Copenhagen is not the author of it. We already had our own channel on TikTok, which was already popular, but we wanted to test whether we could get young people who were interested in science to apply. So we really needed to go flat out. We needed influencers,« he says.

Got external funding

Thomas Just Sørensen got funding from the Novo Nordisk Foundation, which wants to increase the general public’s skills in, and knowledge of, the natural sciences. The foundation has donated approximately DKK 4 million to a two-year project that Nanoscience at UCPH is sharing with colleagues at Aarhus University.

The only thing I can say is that it works.

Thomas Just Sørensen

»If you’re going to reach out to young people, you have to be in their place. And it is on social media Back when I started studying, the university would buy TV commercials. You don’t do that nowadays,« says Thomas Just Sørensen.

The total price for the campaign was DKK 300,000 and included an entire day of recording at North Campus including editing and salaries for the influencers, which included Sigmund Trondheim and Silke Linea Christensen.

Thomas Just Sørensen has personally no idea who the influencers even are. Nor does he even want to assess the actual content of the videos, which are both on TikTok, YouTube and Instagram.

»The only thing I can say is that it works. And even though we ourselves can make just as interesting content as the influencers, we may well use them again«.

To see the video, click on the image below.