Friday, September 3, 2010

I give D+ a C

Drake University has raised some eyebrows with the logo for its new Drake Advantage campaign -- D+, which, for an academic institution, carries a bit of a bad connotation:

Drake’s branding folks weren’t exactly seeking this reaction. When viewed in context, the “D+” is meant to be part of an equation, suggesting Drake + you equals something, well, awesome. That said, Drake officials aren’t running away from a campaign they say they knew was “edgy” for the very reasons some are now criticizing it.

“I’m not surprised by the buzz. Our intended audience loves it,” said Tom Delahunt, vice president of admission and student financial planning. “The 15- to 17-year-olds think it’s great. They get it, and I’m not surprised people are having a little fun with it too.” (link)

I give Drake credit for zeroing in on their target audience: perspective undergraduate students. Universities serve many constituencies, and their failure to prioritize those audiences is why so many institutions produce bland, boring marketing campaigns and confusing web sites. Colleges and universities also are very risk-averse, so Drake deserves kudos for going out on a limb. If it's testing well with the target audience, then who am I to complain?

That said, I'm not a fan of D+ or the larger campaign, at least what I've seen of it so far. According to the Inside Higher Ed article linked above, “'The D+ was not designed to stand alone or represent a grade. Instead, it was designed to be paired with prose and draw attention to the distinctive advantages of the Drake experience.'” But logos should not require an explanation. And other than the unorthodox choice of the logo, the web component of the campaign doesn't appear to convey anything that sets Drake apart from any other university. That's another great sin of university marketing campaigns -- they all look the same.

While I'm at it, it's a bit of a concern to me that faculty were caught by surprise when they learned of the campaign. We're gearing up to launch a new brand campaign soon where I work, and we've spent time sharing the details with large groups of faculty and staff. The reaction has been positive because the campaign reflects the university's distinctive culture, and while our target audience also is high school students (and those that influence them), the brand must speak to everything we do as an institution.

In other words, we live the brand.

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