Monday, June 9, 2008

Old frontiers in copywriting

I can’t say that “Pioneering new frontiers” is an electrifying tagline, but I will say that featuring Warren Buffett on gigantic rolling billboards is solid brand marketing.

University of Nebraska is flaunting its multi-billionaire alum in a campaign that speaks to the demands of students and parents. These customers want to know if paying thousands of dollars to spend time at this place is worth it. Buffet assures them it is. And when it comes to investing, he’s credible.

Marketing a university education is a tough business. Competition for customers is fierce. Not every one of the 4000 or so universities has the knack yet. Looking at college taglines is a bit like picking over the white socks at Marshalls. You’ll find a pair that fits, but it won’t get you a date.

Despite the need to reach and motivate America’s emotionally on-fire teenagers, many colleges simply resort to conventional nagging of the young. “Never stop questioning,” intones Binghampton University. “Work toward greatness” urges Pace. Utica College simply offers three big-sounding nouns: “Tradition. Opportunity. Transformation.” followed by a registration mark – ® – in case you had any notion of stealing this gem.

The people who adopted these lines have heard too many commencement addresses.

There is a reason “Invent the Future” was chosen by Virginia Tech in 2006, used earlier at University of Nevada at Las Vegas, and used, in variation, by Dow Corning, which promises to “help you invent the future.” It’s because the phrase sounds stirring and visionary. But any college or company engaged in R&D might like the line and try to use it.

It’s difficult to come up with something original, if that’s the goal. More important is capturing the spirit of the university in all communications and marketing – and creating a true brand.

Of course, the University of Miami simply capitalizes on its single greatest brand pillar – its location. This institution sent out mailings that none-too-coyly promised an enjoyable four years: “University of Miami: The difference is Miami.” Mmmm. You can almost smell the cocoa butter from here.



Jay Livingston said...

So what do you think of Oberlin coming up with the tagline "Fearless"? (Don't know whether there's a TM on that.) For the current students, it's a target of mocking and satire (check YouTube). But it's not current students the administration is thinking about, and the NPR story said that "the fearless tagline does seem to be testing well with high schoolers."

brandsinger said...

I think "fearless" is silly.

Jim Antonopoulos said...

Hi Claude,

Nice post.

We have a University which we do brand marketing for here in Australia – notably a much smaller market than that of the US.

We coined the line 'Infinite Possibilities' for them borne from the diversity the University offered as its competitive advantage.

Many deemed this line as quite generic and applicable to most universities, of which I agree as most could put their own spin on it. We're currently working with them to begin publicising, not the 'infinite possibilities' line but rather the proof points which lead to it being realised.

We want them to find their own Warren Buffet's who prove these possibilities and use their profiles and achievements as brand ambassadors.

I agree with you, most of these war cries don't have the info-blurred teenage mind (or potential post-graduate mind) in mind and simply self-fulfill.

I'm hoping our 'infinite possibilities' brand inspires those whom university is indeed an option.

As far as 'fearless' goes – it sure does sound completely different to all the others. I'd want my university to be fearless so don't really see a problem with it at all; negative spin-off videos on youtube are flattering given the time it takes to shoot and upload a video.

Saying that, if my university said it was 'fearless' I'd look for proof of it - if it was proven, than I'd be happy with it. It's possibly this lack of proof which leads to mockery.

Keep up the great posts.