Axe deodorant custom branded tour bus
October 23rd, 2023 | 7 min read
  • Mobile Tours

How Beauty Brands Unlock College Markets

For the beauty industry and cosmetic brands across every category — skin care, hair care, makeup, salon services, and cosmetic procedures — college students are a potential gold mine. In the United States, the spending power of the Gen Z beauty market is a hefty $200 billion per year, and for both men and women, beauty products account for as much as 30% of that spending.

Not only are these 18- to 24-year-old beauty shoppers spending about $2,000 per year on hair products, skin care, and makeup, they’re shopping often — 42% say they shop monthly, another 15% weekly, according to a recent Lending Tree article.

Because college students are at a point in their lives when they’re open-minded and eager for new experiences — like new brands and product categories — all of this beauty spending creates numerous opportunities to win consumers over to your brand. And because we also tend to form long-lasting habits and preferences during this stage of life, brands that grab college students’ interest may be securing loyal customers for many years to come.

College campuses represent huge potential for the beauty and cosmetics market, but what’s the best way to tap into that potential? Social media is one obvious answer — Gen Zers spend a great deal of their time online — but social media channels are already inundated with ads, and Gen Z is rather adept at dodging ads and turned off by anything that’s too “salesy.” What works for Gen Z consumers — what they vibe with — is experiential marketing, a first-person, real world approach that creates memories and moments of fun and discovery.

What Is Experiential Marketing?

Experiential marketing, sometimes called engagement marketing, is a strategy that directly engages consumers and encourages them to participate in a brand experience.

“Experiential marketing is, in its simplest definition, a type of marketing based on creating memorable and innovative customer experiences to create deep emotional connections between the customers and the brand,” according to a recent Business News Daily article.

Experiential marketing happens many ways: brand activations, pop-up shops, mobile tours, campus “lounges,” and more. The common thread is that these experiences are immersive, making them memorable and more likely to create a bond between college students and your brand.

What Are Some Ways Beauty Companies Target College and University Students?

Mobile Tours

Part brand activation, part billboard, the mobile tour approach to experiential marketing isn’t unique to beauty brands seeking to build a Gen Z following. But the mobile tour’s flexibility and mobility make it a great fit for college campuses, according to a recent YPulse article: “Going straight to college campuses to build a relationship with this valuable cosmetics consumer base can be done by virtually any industry and provide several benefits — but beauty brands are leading this trend.”

The mobile tour gives your beauty brand a way to reach college-age cosmetics consumers directly, which creates opportunities to offer product sampling, and to engage with students to gather feedback and insights while expanding brand awareness.

Typically based on a branded food truck, tour bus or 18-wheeler, the mobile tour can function like a pop-up shop or offer a much more high-concept experience, like beauty brand Glossier’s “carnival on a truck” that offered visitors a chance to spin a wheel for free products, discount codes, or exclusive merchandise.


Recently, Axe partnered with Promobile Marketing to reinvent the concept of masculinity for high school aged kids. Gone are the antiquated beliefs about what it means to be a man. We helped usher in a new era of kids who smell great and embrace who they are. A full custom branded Axe Mobile tour bus toured the country for just under a year to visit high schools all over America based on four pillars—music, gaming, chilling out, and being with friends.

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Numerous personal care, cosmetics and beauty brands, from heavyweights like Clinique to smaller beauty brands Sunday Riley, Kylie Cosmetics and Hally Hair, have used mobile tours to reach college campuses nationwide with product demonstrations, samples and giveaways, personal consultations, and more. Positioned on or near college campuses, mobile tours create an eye-catching mini-hub for your beauty brand. “And even if it’s not directly on campus, or is more about establishing a campus word-of-mouth, these initiatives of course come with a social media presence that bolsters the brand even further, too,” the article continues.

Pop-Up Shops

Pop-up shops are “temporary retail spaces that engage consumers immersively” via a compelling mix of aesthetics, social media buzz, and community-building. Sometimes built inside shipping containers, RVs, or even existing buildings, pop-up shops create a mini-world around your beauty brand, taking its products and image directly to college campuses. Exclusive merchandise, new product lines, special discounts, giveaways, goodie bags, and partnerships with college social media influencers are common features of the pop-up shop.

Skincare products and cosmetics giant Clinique got in on the trend in 2019 with a pop-up store launching its Clinique ID moisturizer. More recently, they hosted pool parties in two college towns to promote its newest SPF product. These brand activations targeted beauty shoppers and featured immersive experiences like beauty touch-up bars, consultations, and plenty of photo opportunities.

“The pool parties are a perfect example of providing an experience versus only sampling or having a presence in a bookstore,” according to one Clinique executive. “Experiences are the way we’re thinking about customer connection from college campuses and beyond.”

Because pop-up shops are both novel and eye-catching, and because they create an immersive mini-world for the brand, pop-ups “can also harness the power of social media to encourage hype to build around a brand and help it go viral.” In other words, pop-ups were made for Instagram.

Integrating (and Infiltrating) Social Media

College students live much of their lives online — and because brand activations, pop-up shops, mobile tour buses and other forms of experiential marketing create fun, engaging moments, they make appealing content for social media. One of the unique benefits of experiential marketing is that the marketing effort itself is an event, creating interesting experiences for beauty shoppers worth sharing via photos and video.

Take full advantage of this by creating photo-worthy spots and selfie stations within your pop-up or other event. Incorporate social media contests or challenges, and create a unique hash tag to both promote the event and track engagement. Encourage customers to post their photos to social media, and share their content on your own social media channels. Doing so not only gives you the benefit of user-generated content but also communicates that you’re open, transparent, and interested in offering beauty tips and advice. Even better, real-time posting while the event is live can help draw in more students.

Why Is Experiential Marketing So Effective with College Students?

As digital natives, Gen Zers are smart about dodging the traditional advertising that’s saturated social media in the last several years. But they do appreciate opportunities to experience a brand’s values, culture, and products firsthand, to share it with their friends, to use it as part of their own online stories. By creating an immersive experience via mobile tours, pop-up shops, and other forms of experiential marketing, you’ll give college students an opportunity to connect with your brand and become the next generation of loyal customers.


Promobile Marketing is a dynamic experiential marketing agency based in New York City. For over a decade, Promobile Marketing has collaborated with a range of brands—from budding startups to major CPG brands—on immersive marketing campaigns. Get in touch to discuss your next project.