Steal This Idea: Dream Dorm Room Makeover

Financial institutions are desperate to engender themselves with college students. How can banks and credit unions push checking accounts and other financial products on a subset of the population that tends to put parties above other more practical priorities?

How about a $5,000 dream dorm room makeover? What college-age student doesn’t want that? Everyone can remember the first time they laid eyes on campus housing. They are dull, lifeless, functional spaces painted an antiseptic shade of white. Bor-ring!

There are many different ways to structure a promotion like this. It could be a straight “enter to win” sweepstakes, or something involving a social media voting phase. It’s easy to find prizes that will have huge appeal with the target audience, which gives the campaign extra traction. And marketers have the flexibility to weave in just about any offer on any financial product they feel is strategically important.

It’s such a fantastic approach, it’s surprising more banks and credit unions haven’t tried it. But alas, The Financial Brand has only ever seen a couple examples. Michigan State University FCU is running the “$1,500 Spartan Room Makeover Contest” this summer (although theirs is an essay contest), and Listerhill FCU did something similar back in 2011 as part of their erstwhile “Young & Free” initiative.


Two examples of dorm room makeover promotions from credit unions.


What’s The Strategy?

There are a host of strategic reasons to build a campaign around a dorm room makeover. First, and most importantly, there’s the target audience: Gen-Y. This is perhaps the most coveted and contested segment in retail banking. Both banks and credit unions have contorted themselves in all different directions trying to find a way to reach younger consumers — they are the future lifeblood of your organization after all, and there aren’t that many of them.

But a dorm room promo targets a much more narrow segment that just “everyone ages 18-25.” Forget about all the loafs living at home with no job and no ambition. A dorm room giveaway hits college kids exclusively — those that will have a degree and (presumably) a higher income when they graduate. And isn’t that the whole point of going after “Gen-Y?” To foster relationships with consumers who may not be very profitable today, but will be in a few years as their lending needs increase?

A dorm room makeover engages this audience in ways few other promotions could. College age consumers are ultra-tuned to style and fashion, yet most have limited means to look as cool as they wished. And everyone wants to have the nicest digs on campus. It’s like there’s a competition to see who take the same blank canvas and be the most creative. A dorm room giveaway hits on all of Gen-Y’s emotional triggers — peer pressure, vanity, popularity, desirability.

It’s much more natural for a financial institution to run this type of promotion like this than many of the other awkward things banks and credit unions have attempted in their pursuit of Gen-Y. Financial marketers have really done some silly things in their pursuit of Gen-Y consumers. They’ve tried to sound “hip” and “with it” by using the lingo of youth, like “bling” and “shizzle.” They’ve adopted a crazy style of design with grungy type and ink blotches to show how “radical” they can be. This practically never works. Usually, the financial institution just comes across as a wanna-be, leaving the audience rolling their eyes with incredulity.

Steal This Idea: The Ultimate In-Branch Conversation Starter

How It Works: The Basic Outline

There’s nothing particularly unusual or complicated about the structure of this kind of promotion. It’s a basic sweepstakes. You offer people the chance to win prizes in exchange for contact information (from prospects, to whom you will send marketing materials to later) and accounts (from new customers).

What makes the promotion unique is the focus and theme surrounding the giveaways: dorm room décor. You can give away one single grand prize — a makeover worth anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 (depending on the size of the school). Or you can offer a whole range of individual prizes like laptops and iPads, an ultimate Xbox package, or a free mini-fridge stocked for a semester.

Anyone can get one free entry simply by filling out a form either in branches and/or online at your website or Facebook page. Students who acquire qualifying products and services can earn “bonus entries” into the drawing. For instance, if someone opens a checking account, they get five extra entries. If they sign up for eServices (online banking/bill pay and eStatements), they can get five more entries. If they refer a friend, they might get ten entries. You could offer one extra entry to anyone who tweeted about the promotion using a special hashtag. The point is that you can award extra entries for any specific behaviors or actions you want the target audience to take.

Prizes can be awarded as cash, gift cards or prepaid credit cards. A smart selection of retailers includes Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, Pier One, Best Buy and Sharper Image — big, familiar brand names that carry some aspirational clout with Gen-Y consumers. Pottery Barn has a Facebook page dedicated to dorm décor; maybe it’d be a good idea to partner with them.

You can mix and match prizes to create various tiers of packages. You could call the grand prize the Campus Penthouse, with other tiered packages like the Senior Deluxe Suite, the Junior Party Pad and the Sophomore Hangout.

All promotional materials should include specific, relevant product offers. You don’t necessarily have to craft a special new student account (although that might help). But if you want this kind of promotion to accomplish more than just some name recognition, you should incorporate some sort of product marketing. It can be as simple as putting a banner ad for your free checking product in- and around all your “Dorm Room Makeover” materials.

Insider’s Tip: When Tim McAlpine at Currency Marketing ran a dorm room makeover contest for one of his clients, he says a major factor fueling success was campus access. You can accomplish much more when you have the school’s blessing than you can if you have to stay off campus. Talk to the school’s marketing and promotions people, just be prepared to “pay to play.”

Option #1: Vote for the Ugliest Dorm Room

If you want to concentrate all your promotional activity on your Facebook page, then you might considering changing the format for the grand prize giveaway. You could have students submit photos of their messy, cluttered dorm rooms and then have Facebook users vote to see who is most deserving of a makeover. The person with the most votes wins the grand prize (the “Campus Penthouse” package), with the option to award prizes to second and third place. Everyone else can get an entry for various actions — submitting photos, voting, tweets, referrals, new accounts, etc. — that entry them into a regular sweepstakes-style drawing.

Option #2: Dorm Room Decorating Tips

Every college kid wants to know how to take their dorm room from styleless to stylish, and do so within their budget. You can create a whole “content marketing” series around this subject. At the most basic level, you could generate a list of quick tips you could tweet. Or you could go hog wild, and create an entire microsite or multipage booklet dedicated to turning drab, dreary dorm rooms into dreams deluxe. You could call it the “Dorm Room Style Guide 101.” (Tip: Check out websites like Dormify for decorating tips and ideas.)


You can create a “Guide to Dorm Room Design & Decor” as part of your promotion. The affordable dorm room decorating ideas in the two-part, before-and-after infographic shown here come from Dawn Falcone.


Option #3: Fraternity vs. Sorority Edition

You could have two fraternities compete, or pit a fraternity against a sorority, to see who can refer the most new customers and/or generate the most new student checking accounts. The winner would get a $10,000 makeover for their frat/sorority house, plus a $2,500 party. It’s a paid word-of-mouth marketing scheme, but it could be loads of fun for everyone.

Option #4: Target Empty Nesters

When one door closes, another opens. You could turn this entire promotion upside down and go after the parents instead of their kids. These empty nesters have an extra room they can do something with, so you could get really creative with a Home Equity Loan/Line offer geared around a remodeling promotion. “Our little Timmy is off to college,” the missus says to her husband, mourning only ever so briefly before asking him with excitement, “So what color are we going to paint the new entertainment room?!?”

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