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Drake University

September 4, 2010 by USA Post 

Drake University, Drake University wanted to break the noise and clutter and capture the attention of young people looking for the right college.

Therefore, I picked a symbol of academic mediocrity, “D +”

That got the attention of a multitude of critics, including academics and alumni. Publications of the Week ads to the Chronicle of Higher Education wrote critical articles.

Despite the criticism, says the campaign Drake D + – The Drake advantage: the potential of our opportunities + – seems to be performing as intended since its launch earlier this year. Tom Delahunt, Drake’s vice president for admission, citing a 63 percent increase in admissions research last summer and more than doubling of visits to its website for admission, even before the campaign attracted national attention.

The campaign highlights what the university has to offer, and notes the website: “When it comes to choosing the college that fits you best, simply no higher level.”

But advertising experts consulted by The World-Herald described the effort as shortsighted, saying the association with mediocrity could cause long-term damage to an institution of higher education.

“It will break if the disorder, but more of a laughingstock,” said Robin Donovan, owner of Omaha-based agency Bozell advertising.

Adam Wagler, a professor of advertising at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said “D +” could ruin the brand equity of Drake.

“It can be very efficient in this very second, get some laughs, get some web traffic,” Wagler said. “But at the end of the day, is an academic institution … and how something like that serve?”

The campaign stemmed from a desire by the university to differentiate their recruitment materials of others in the mailbox full of propaganda that pervades the prospective students, said Delahunt.

University officials wanted something eye care. His advertising agency, Stamats, Cedar Rapids, produced a handful of concepts. “D +” received the highest response of a sample of 921 individuals from 15 – to 17-year-old Drake target audience.

“61 percent said they ask for more information,” said Delahunt. “Only 3 percent had a negative response to it.”

“We found a way to get them to read, to make you want to know more about our university.”

Delahunt said the campaign was aimed at high school students, not adults. The younger generation is different, he said. He has two teenage daughters himself, who, like his colleagues, spend much time watching “The Daily Show” and “South Park.”

“They get the irony, sarcasm they receive,” he said. “That’s the world they live in.”

Faculty members were some of the harshest critics. Delahunt said that if I had to do it again, would have informed the faculty of the campaign & D before its debut.

If the campaign is ultimately successful depends on the quality of the entering class next year, said Delahunt. He noted the average ACT score for students who come to Drake is 27 and average GPA is 3.7. The university is highly regarded. In the last rankings U.S. News of regional universities in the Midwest where the Creighton University was ranked No. 1, Drake is ranked No. 3.

And the campaign is not limited to a big logo of an undesirable degree. It also includes information about Drake’s academic rigor and professional training opportunities, in addition to life in Des Moines.

Wagler, UNL professor of advertising, is aware of the Iowa and Drake’s academic reputation. An article on the D amused him + campaign sent it to her Facebook page.

“I thought it sounded like a Far Side cartoon,” he said.

Donovan said that large companies have rejected this type of simple campaigns, no matter how clever. No advertising campaign must create a negative image for the product you are trying to promote.

“People who are in these big companies know, so never leave an agency get away with something like this,” he said.

Donovan recalled an effort in Hartford, Connecticut in the 1980s when a company called Wiremold auditioned campaigns advertising a product that ran the wiring under the carpet. One agency came up with an apparently nervous and brilliant idea: Wiremold is sinking.

Wiremold officials stopped the presentation, Donovan said, and asked the agency representatives to leave.

“Smart people came up with that,” he said. People, “but he had thrown more intelligent.”

This did not happen with Drake’s campaign.

“It’s a cheap trick, and cheap tricks sometimes work,” said Donovan. “But I think the potential costs are too high in this case.”

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