Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Brand New Dilemma at

the University of Minnesota

Firing up Driven to Discover* Again...

 (*or as we groundlings refer to it: Driven to Dissemble)

For every student or alumnus who embraces a new university marketing campaign, there are others who express confusion, apathy or even disgust when a college dares to define itself.

For Purdue, the new campaign's goal is to drive home the message that the university churns out “makers” of all kinds -- makers of stronger, faster, more artful things that advance technology and society as a whole. But Purdue apparently also makes critics. Upon the public release of the campaign, a Facebook comment thread quickly emerged as a virtual clearinghouse for everything just about anyone thought was wrong with it. 

For every one who gave it a thumbs-up, two or three people offered some variation on "dislike."

“Fail. Purdue. Can't believe you spent money on this crap,” one commenter wrote. “I'm a boilermaker!”

For some, however, the problem isn’t slogan-driven campaigns getting lost in translation -- it’s the campaigns themselves. Richard A. Hesel, who has decades of higher education marketing experience, said colleges are relying too heavily on quick and easy campaigns instead of transformational investments in areas like programmatic development that can be marketed to students and parents as value added.

“I’m watching these stories [about campaign criticism], and it’s what you would expect. It’s exactly what you would expect,” said Hesel, a principal of Art & Science Group, a firm in Baltimore and Durham, N.C. “When universities allow these things to be reduced to some stupid tag line, they deserve what they get. I think it’s idiocy. It’s really idiocy.”
 The comments on the article are great, for example:

  • Campaigns Are Not Sustainable 
  • Posted by Rex Whisman , Principal at BrandED Consultants Group on October 19, 2010 at 9:00am EDT
  • The primary reason why campaigns get negative responses, especially from faculty, students, parents and alumni is because campaigns reinforce people's skepticism about branding. Most still thinking branding is about logos, taglines and advertising campaigns. When institutions limit their execution of brand development to a campaign that approach provides the requisite fodder for the skeptics to criticize, often well-deserved. 

  • Truth in numbers, please
  • Posted by Riall Nolan , Professor of Anthropology at Purdue University on October 19, 2010 at 10:45am EDT 
  • Purdue's new slogan is enormously controversial on this campus, no matter what the official line is. "...a lot of favorable responses" coupled with "...some people vocal and opposed" gets it exactly backwards. The Facebook page has well over a hundred members, and the positive response there can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The local paper had over 180 emailed comments about the slogan, only three of which were positive. What offends people isn't just the dumb slogan, it's the fact that (a) we didn't need a branding campaign in the first place; (b) it has cost an enormous amount of money so far; and (c) they're planning to spend even more money to "assess" it. This at a time when faculty and staff have had no pay raises for several years, budgets are being slashed, and benefits cut. Branding campaigns like this place the emphasis on appearance rather than on substance, and this is offensive to many at this solid, proud and (already) highly-regarded Midwestern university. When even the news of the branding campaign is "spun" this way, it just makes things worse. 
  • Yippie-yi-yo-ki-yay!!!
  • Posted by Frizbane Manley on October 19, 2010 at 10:45am EDT 
  • Let’s see, I’m guessing that Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Northwestern, Stanford, Swarthmore, Williams, Middlebury, the Universities of Michigan, California-Berkeley, Texas, Virginia ... even Cal Tech, MIT. Georgia Tech – quite a few others -- won’t be needing one of these brand development programs.

    On the other hand, Clemson, Boise State University, the University of Albany, Christopher Newport University, all of those “new” Ph.D.-granting, football-playing universities in Florida (the former “upper-division” universities) -- oh yes, that university that was branded with a “D+ … would that be “the Drake advantage?” -- will definitely need to employ one of those Mad Men corporations to match their imagined excellence with the public’s image of the same.

    I recall that, back in the early 60s, George Lynn Cross, president of the University of Oklahoma was exasperated by the constant questioning of Oklahoma legislators who wanted to know, “Why is it that every time you come down here to Oklahoma City you have your hand out for a few more millions of dollars?” He replied, “We want to build a university up in Norman that even our football team can be proud of.” 
  • With that thought, I’d like to suggest a few slogans that seem to be appropriate foundations for branding campaigns.

  • Boise State = “A university that excels at the level of its foot ball team.”

    Clemson = “We shape the leadership of South Carolina.”

    University of Albany = “Where nanotechnology extends even to our commitment to globalization and foreign languages.”

    University of Phoenix = “Wear yoo pays yer fees … an’ yoo gits yer degrees!”

    University of Chicago
    = “Where being accepted is the only difficult challenge.”

    Christopher Newport University
    = “An Ivy League education in Norfolk, Virginia.”

    Duke University = “The Princeton of the South (but with North Carolina basketball)”

    Harvard University = “The Michigan of the East.”

    Michigan Tech = “Who doesn’t love 14 feet of snow per annum.”

    Grinnell College = “An elite oasis in the midst of rural America.”

    UNC-Asheville = “The Little Harvard on the hill.”

    Davidson College
    = “Where southern values meet southern traditions.”

    Damn, I love this branding.

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