Posts Tagged ‘Admissions Marketing’

Another College Video spoof

June 23, 2008

Here the target is political correctness, and the silliness of using on-camera spokespeople to sell a college like it was a used car.

“Whiteman” college….

College Humor spoofs College Videos

June 20, 2008

A well-placed set of barbs really raises the question: does any college really need a video? Certainly, not, if it ain’t authentic and substantive. Enjoy.

Back on Barack

June 5, 2008

No, I didn’t leave to join the Obama campaign. And no, I haven’t been recently released from the Hillary campaign either. I just got too busy to blog, too focused on client projects that were pressing and proprietary.

Hopefully, I’m back. But I couldn’t pass up this little college marketing gem: a Brussels college that wants to advertise that it’s a combination of academic oil and water:

Barackary Clintama

Here’s how Hogeschool-Universiteit illustrates that it’s a college and university all rolled into one! Any reactions to their advertising chops or their taste? Image courtesy of adpulp.com through one of my commentors, Big Yellow Forehead blog.

Obama/Hillary fusion

ObaMac

February 20, 2008

Millennial sensibilities appear poised to determine who our next President will be. All of the research has been showing us that Millennials are diverse, are brand oriented, are media savvy, and most importantly, public spirited and community oriented. So it shouldn’t surprise us that they’ll begin to flex those muscles in ways that will impact the culture in far more significant ways than clothing styles and music genres.

Several articles in the press recently underscore the arrival of this Gen-Y phenomenon in our political decision-making process:

Is Clinton a PC and Obama a Mac?

Clinton as PC, Obama as Mac

The important thing to emphasize here is that indeed Obama is a Mac. His website reflects his brand – cool, intuitive, imaginative, well-designed, interactive, respectful, authentic.

Hillary’s website, by contrast, lacks the Apple-esque human engineering, the sensibilities that show careful listening and an ethos that is comfortable with handing the keys to the Millennials to let them take the culture for a spin.

I concur with Noam’s assessment, as well as the article by Doug Kendall which triggered this current media stampede.

Not from a political perspective, mind you, but from the jaded mindset of a branding guy and marketer-to-Millennials. The reporters have done their homework, and their assessment rings true. I predict it’ll play out that way in the political process … though I claim no expertise in that arena.

Another incisive commentary by Frank Rich adds observations about the impact of Millennial ways of thinking on the McCain candidacy. He says,

Whatever the potency of his political skills and message, Mr. Obama is also riding a demographic wave. The authors of the new book “Millennial Makeover,” Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais, point out that the so-called millennial generation (dating from 1982) is the largest in American history, boomers included, and that roughly 40 percent of it is African-American, Latino, Asian or racially mixed. One in five millennials has an immigrant parent. It’s this generation that is fueling the excitement and some of the record turnout of the Democratic primary campaign, and not just for Mr. Obama.

Even by the low standards of his party, Mr. McCain has underperformed at reaching millennials in the thriving culture where they live. His campaign’s effort to create a MySpace-like Web site flopped. His most-viewed appearances on YouTube are not viral videos extolling him or replaying his best speeches but are instead sendups of his most reckless foreign-policy improvisations…”

Barack compared the Boomers to the Moses generation, and the Millennials to the “Joshua” generation which followed it — doers instead of idealists. Of course, this could all be empty rhetoric, and I’m not personally interested in the politics. I’m interested in the branding. The point is that the Obama brand does seem to fit the style of both the candidate and his helpers, while the attempt to fly a “change” flag appears ineffectual from a branding standpoint when either Clinton or McCain make similar claims. You can rely on the Millennials ability to interpret visceral media signals, in deciding whether a candidate’s message and person align with their stated brand. And it appears like Obama will definitely win that battle.

Whether the Millennials will display historic perspective, or political wisdom, is another question entirely.

For colleges, the lesson is clear. Make sure your brand is clearly and authentically implemented in your website and your use of media.

Unreason and me(dia)

February 18, 2008

This video is the latest YouTube example of what Susan Jacoby writes about in her new book, The Age of American Unreason. The question is, are Americans hostile to knowledge?

What do you think I am? A clique chic geek? How should I know?!!!

Inspiration – III

February 11, 2008

Enjoying some personal recharge time in San Diego, I met a couple of committed walkers who taught me some great insights into authenticity as a personal and institutional lifestyle.

I was climbing Cowles Mountain, the highest spot in San Diego county. It’s a great spot to enjoy the sunrise — an hour up, 15 minutes down. While on the way, I stopped to rest and as Del (on the right) passed with his friend, we struck up a conversation. I asked him about walking as metaphor of life, and he hit me right between the eyes with, as Kenny Rogers put it, an ace that I could keep. Del’s formula?

“I have two feet. The first is rethinking/change. The second is confidence/assertiveness.” (I’m translating from more religious terminology – repentance and faith). Del went on (I’m paraphrasing): “When I start out, I have to listen and respond to my environment. I need to rethink, based on who I impact and where I don’t measure up. Then, I am free to confidently go forward, seize opportunities, be effective at what I can do and who I am. And then comes another step of listening, responding, rethinking.”

Del’s comments inspired me with a fresh insight into both personal and institutional authenticity. Being “me”, honestly projecting who I am, is not enough if I want to be perceived as authentic — if I want to be an organic and productive enterprise. I also have to respond to “you”. I must be committed to self-improvement, and work that out through a cycle of receiving and sending, give and take, listening and expressing.

The brand of an institution does not emerge from what it repeats about itself. As John Moore said in Brand Autopsy recently, it flows from being, not “branding”.

Being “me”, personally or institutionally, involves a recognition that if a “me” has value because of my story, my unique experiences and perspective, then every “you” has value, too. If one individual is golden, a diverse community brings infinite riches.

If there were only one university it would be a boring and provincial world of ideas. But Oxford has greater value because there is Cambridge. Harvard is interesting because it shares many qualities with the other Ivies, as well as because of the nuances which differentiate it.

Each “me” becomes actualized as an authentic brand because of its response to its environment. I can attempt to assert my independence from my peers, but when I do so it only cheapens my actual brand, the authentic “me” which is not what I think of myself, but what I actually am as an organic member of a community of interrelated, interdependent organisms. My ability to project a distinct perspective, a valuable set of values, tarnishes whenever I grow sluggish in my efforts to be accountable.

In fact, I would argue that if there is one foot more important than another in Del’s metaphor, it would be the rethinking foot. By rethinking and changing as rapidly as possible to changing conditions and needs, I earn the right to assert my identity as valuable, as useful, as worth consideration. I have a valid reason to hold forth my brand. And I have a decent chance, thus, of my brand being perceived as authentic.

Thanks, Del, for your helpful insight!

Archetypical Climbers

Taking out the good lines

February 6, 2008

Hillman Curtis is one clear-thinking web designer, who has evolved into video production. (I am a video producer, who has evolved into web design and branding). In his book, MTIV, he quotes Hemingway: “Write the story. Then take out all the good lines, and see if it still works.”

That’s the key to effective storytelling. The good lines too often get in the way of the story, and I think the main reason why “college video” has become a term of derision is that most of the videos focus on delivering “good lines” rather than authentic stories.

A video I really saw by Chapman University is a case in point. It starts with a long shot of the President, who addresses the camera and talks about the 4 pillars of Chapman as the camera pulls back to reveal the literal pillars of the administration building. There’s a good line that needs to be killed off because it is deadly to viewership. He’s followed by a student who’s obviously reading a teleprompter. More good lines that get the talking points in, but kill the authenticity and completely fail to establish a story.

The only way to tell a story is to let a person talk about something they care about — usually their own experience. If after a few seconds we sense that their story is interesting to us, we may watch.

That’s it. Take out ALL the good lines, and see if it works. Because in college video, it definitely WILL NOT work if the lines are left in there.

Fair use abuse

January 3, 2008

This Chronicle clip talks about the academic/pop culture remix uses of copyrighted video on the web. The American University profs in the interview claim that the sorts of uses they sample for the reporter are fair, and contribute to a new kind of dialog among people. I’m not inclined to agree. I think most of those things are opportunistic misuses of creativity… because they build a creative product on someone else’s investment.

The fact that they’re funny and creative in their own right doesn’t matter to me as an artist. The law is designed to protect artists from having their work reproduced and distributed by others, because the duplication of images I created cheapens the resale value of those images for me, as the artist.

I’ve done many parodies of other creative works over the years. No problem with that. But I’ve done so the right way, by recreating, with a twist, the original idea in a way that serves my client’s communication objective.

Fair use? Sure, a couple seconds of a news event, a very brief clip from a concert at a college, to show the audience that the event occurred. That’s fair use. But if I were to repurpose the entire chorus of an artist’s song as part of the sound track, letting the words or music set the mood for that segment of the video — that would NOT be fair use, but would instead be benefitting from the other artist’s work without paying him. So in those cases I always contact the artist and explain the desire to use his work for that purpose, and tell him what the college can afford (usually from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on artist, purpose, and how it will be distributed). Usually, along with credit they’re happy for the exposure at a nominal rate.

In the movie I Am Sam, the screenwriter wanted to use Beatles songs because that was part of the title character’s shorthand way of communicating with his daughter. They didn’t have the king’s ransom it would take to use 10 seconds here or 30 seconds there of real Beatles songs. This seemed like a setback … but instead they went to relatively unknown bands who cover Beatles tunes and hired them to recreate the songs. Then, they only had to buy less expensive performing rights and the much less expensive song usage license for the movie. Was this a noble purpose, a new audience, a creative recontexting of Beatles music? Yes. Would it have been fair use? No, and if they had tried it they would have risked facing the punitive damages and criminal penalties that the copyright law has been given to enforce it.

I once violated the copyright law myself, and it still gives me the creeps to think about it. I was doing a motivational show for a sales meeting in Phoenix… a one-time feel good meeting for a bunch of guys who had been through a rough time in their struggling division of a Fortune 100 company. I took 20 second to 1 minute clips from a bunch of different movies and added a narration by a voice that sounded like the country philosopher. The theme was “great beginnings”, and every clip was either funny or inspiring. Did I get away with it? Yes, because it was under the radar in 1989 or so. Was it fair use? Not on your life. It was an abuse of the fair use laws and I’m glad no one ever caught me.

Let’s end this on a light note by breaking the law together… 🙂

PS. The report you can read yourself is by Pat Afderheide and Peter Jaszi, co-director of the American University Law School’s Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property.

I just interviewed an attorney who is an expert in intellectual property a few months ago. I’ll contact him and report back to you what he says about it.

Authentic authenticity

December 31, 2007

Over the last few weeks I’ve kept coming back to the issue of authenticity, as discussed on YouTube and as advocated by Andy Beedle.

Authenticity is my mantra, my corporate compass, but YouTube’s shock-schlock and Beedle’s quest for viral humor seem to me to be cheap substitutes for the real thing. Here’s a year-end reflection on authentic authenticity.

I still subscribe to the “3 gates” view of communication I learned as a kid: “Is it true, necessary, and kind?”

YouTube as an Institutional Platform

It’s almost laughable to look at YouTube through that prism.

The authenticity question deals with “Is it true?” But is anyone on YouTube asking the other 2 questions? Some are; most, it seems to me, are not. It’s a commons, and the least common denominator now defines the YouTube brand.

Is it necessary to see most of the garbage on YouTube? Objectively, no.

Is it kind to folks like Miss Teen South Carolina or other YouTube laughingstocks at their worst, caught doing silly, foolish, or degrading things? Obviously not, but then again, there may be times when seeing a window into the darker parts of the soul of a football coach or politician may be a public service.

But if I’m charged with protecting an institutional brand, and I want to compete for attention in that marketplace with representatives of my college, my answer is “No.” No, I’m not going to put up 2nd rate hubris, which most college videos tend to be, and no, I’m not going to intentionally put my President wiping out on water skis or my dean of students in drag. Such a visual might be viral, but that kind of viral is a disease, not desirable publicity.

It’s a free country. Kids and faculty members are going to post stuff on YouTube. A lot of it will be embarrassing, and some of it will actually be a credit to the institution. But as a rule I’d say try to live in a way as an institution that avoids YouTube. Practice authenticity and transparency in both public and private … expect  your administrators and faculty to be the same people all the time … and then there won’t be much ugly, yukyuk junk to get skewered by on YouTube.
The YouTube phenomenon demonstrates, not the need for censorship, but the desirability of individual self-censorship.

While authenticity is a value I subscribe to, in my view it is not the highest value. Necessary and Kind are equally important values. Openness and authenticity are only a virtue when admirable, humane qualities are at the core of each person’s value system. Honor toward others, humility and kindness and other-centered nobility … these are the aspirational virtues that all institutional leaders should exemplify. Isn’t that one reason we call this biz “Higher Education”?

At its best, YouTube is a tribute to the human spirit; at its worst, it is a searchable, accessible latrine. You can’t stop people from reading about your school in a magazine they take into the bathroom. But you don’t have to paint your institutional tributes on the bathroom walls.
So my advice is to be cautious about relying on YouTube as a repository of your college’s reputation and messages.

Beedle-style Humor 

Humor — sarcastic, sophomoric humor as practiced by Andy Beedle and others, is not quite so easy to dislike. Wielded in an institutional setting, as part of an email campaign or website presence, this kind of humor can certainly distinguish your institution from the marketplace at the present time. Few colleges are willing to risk it, and the ones that do have perhaps enough to gain that they’re willing to take the risks that go with the territory.

Consider two examples from 2007 — the  Kettering Stickman series and the George Mason mascot series. Is that sort of humor “authentic”? Does breaking the mold, stepping out of the “dignified” and “moderate” speech patterns that colleges have always practiced, constitute a positive step toward honesty, authenticity, openness?  Obviously some folks think so, and there are some short term gains, it appears, at institutions that move in that direction.

Humor is fun, and I love humor. It’s a great way to get at truth in an accessible way. In fact, humor is essential to credibility, authenticity, accessibility.

I don’t think it’s possible to construct an effective fundraising or recruiting piece without authentic moments of self-effacing, natural humor.

Where I think humor can become dangerous is when it becomes sarcastic, caustic, or disrespectful. In my view this line may at times be difficult to recognize, but generally a cross-section of the institution’s members can see it if they give the matter a day or two to settle. For example, once I was working on a fundraising video and included a line from an interview that joked about how the college’s alumni are productive citizens, not landing in jail. It seemed innocent enough, and felt to me and most of the college’s review committee like an authentic moment of organic humor… and helped create a mood that turned warm and motivational just a few seconds later. But one member of the committee was unsure about it. She admitted it was funny, but it somehow didn’t feel right to her. The next day she called me and was able to verbalize why this wasn’t just a PC issue. Turns out the month before one of the college’s alums had been indicted and was awaiting trial in connection with the Enron scandal. So the joke would have gone sour in the minds of some alumni in the audience who knew and felt sorry for their discredited friend.

As a rule, humor that would burn someone should be thought of as acid humor. It should be avoided, or used with extreme care, because it is ultimately cut from the same cloth that produces disrespect, anarchism, nihilism, hate speech.

The kind of humor that works well is often confessional in nature. It doesn’t hurt anyone, and represents a refreshing candor on the part of the speaker, which many in the audience can relate to. For example in the current Cedarville admissions DVD, which won a Silver award in last year’s national Admissions Marketing Awards competition, after a series of short reasons as to why students chose Cedarville, I included a hesitant admission by one interviewee that she came there because her dad made her go there for a year. The whole comment is there; the double take, the moment of reflection, then the the smiling confession that she didn’t want to come there at all. When she was interviewed, she was still in the first year and had not yet decided whether to return. But I stuck it in the video because I knew it would be a chuckle moment for both students and parents, an acknowledgment that a lot of kids who want to gain the freedom of a college experience are pressured by their parents to attend a school with more structure and supervision.

In a fundraising video for the United Way, I included a humorous moment in which a guy said, “It don’t make a difference how much they take out of my pay… I mean, you know, as long as they don’t take too much…  Is that going to be on tape?”  It brought a sense of the reality that everyone struggles with finding a balance between their altruism and their personal and family goals.

Humor that works is refreshing, feels honest, doesn’t hurt anyone, and doesn’t cheapen or degrade either the people involved or the institution they represent. Humor that works may not be PC, but it also avoids throwing acid at other institutions or at the values and virtues that colleges and humanitarian organizations stand for. And that’s why I would urge colleges to be cautious before using some of the methods that seem to be proliferating right now.

Bottom line, humor that works well establishes an authentic brand of authenticity for the college. It remains true to the aspirational virtues and strengths of the college, while acknowledging the inconsistencies, diversity, and humanity that make that college as accessible and likable as it is strong and idealistic.

Humor as perpetual emotion

December 22, 2007

An open letter to Andy Beedle…

I’m an Andy Beedle fan. Love your sense of humor, admire your ability to assemble a creative staff and deliver a measurable marketing success to college clients.

I share your commitment to the college market, and share your perspectives on many issues related to marketing to Millennials, including the value of authenticity, self-deprecating humor, and the major wrong-headedness of the Appalachian State “HOT HOT HOT” video.

But I think you’ve gone a bit overboard in your latest email, Andy…

Every week, I get several calls from College and University enrollment folks wanting to talk about having us do a new and innovative project for their institution. I also get slightly fewer calls from other higher ed marketing firms that are intellectual property fishing trips disguised as “partnership explorations” where they ask questions about how we come up with our ideas for online campaigns and I say non-committal things like, “We work hard on a collaborative and generative process that is informed by the interests of the target demo.” I have no idea what that means, but it makes those calls mercifully brief.

[Andy then proceeds to advocate ways of achieving viral marketing clout through humor, humor, and more humor.]

First, Andy, I want to say that going viral via humor is a very dangerous branding strategy for a college. Yes, some of your efforts on your web site are laugh-out-load funny, including the Stickman animations for Kettering, and the George Mason mascot video. Brilliant. But Beedle, you’re a Boomer, and while Millennials crave immediacy, Gen Y literacy, individualism, and social interactivity (according to Forrester), they are not the irreverent rebels you and I are. They get along with their parents (80-90 percent), buy brands (90 percent), tolerate and even desire supervision and protection, build communities rather than protest injustices, respect branded institutions if they sense authenticity, and are in many ways much more conservative than we are from the inside out.

For that reason, while there’s no doubt they love to find goofy junk on YouTube to laugh at with their friends, they are not necessarily going to be dismissive of a credible, authentic presentation about a school. They seem to be much less hypocritical than we are about getting an education and a job. We cry “down with the establishment” while we build the most materialistic lifestyle in history; they are often turning away from lucrative positions in order to find meaning in volunteering or other lower-income pursuits.

Second, your attitude toward other marketing approaches feels like smugness. Ideas, freshness, have never been a challenge for me personally; speaking for myself along with you and your staff and many other marketers I know, there are plenty of folks who feel relentlessly creative and have no problem coming up with fresh, prescriptive ideas to suggest to clients. Those of us who choose to specialize in the college marketing arena do so, I would guess, out of a desire to focus on a demanding niche that requires a very refined and nuanced level of creative precision. As a class, college marketers from A-beedle to Ztories (my tiny company), and all the Lipman Hearnes and Stamats in between, have much more trouble getting their clients to take risks than they do finding fresh creative ideas to suggest to their clients. [Am I right on this, fellow marketers?!] So, Andy, my hunch is that lots of college marketing consultants have got to feel the same as I do, impressed with your creativity but not necessarily your artistry.

Third, and most important, humor can attract attention, but it can also cheapen the brand of anything that purports to be worth a $120,000 price tag. Does Michelin go for humor? Cuteness, friendliness, family values; but not funny. Do Lexus and Volvo attach humor to their brands? No, good quality is not funny. Safety is serious. A quality diploma is no laughing matter.

And so for getting unqualified, happy-go-lucky leads, your viral yuck-it-up stuff can fill an inbox. Maybe even bring in a bumper crop of applications. But if you want those Kettering applicants to matriculate, and stay for 4 years because it was a good fit, it seems to me there needs to be a serious and credible set of messages that address substantive issues with the kind of immediacy and Millennial literacy that other schools are able to do through more dignified marketing efforts.

When I scratch below the brilliant, viral Kettering search effort, I see media which fails to bolster its most basic claims vis-a-vis dynamic, engaged applied science. Nor does it authentically address the tough situations students who actually go there must face in an economically distressed community. Should colleges take a caveat emptor approach to their image, or should they attempt to be more transparent about their actual weaknesses as well as strengths?

And the chemical activity level of the humor I’m seeing here can produce unexpected results. It would be damaging to a school like Whitman to make fun of liberal arts as an aspiration. It would be destructive to a Hillsdale to get funny about its preoccupation with politics. These are critical dimensions, august ideals, which fill the very air at these institutions. For me, the essence of brand elucidation requires colleges to begin treating 17-year-olds as adults who are going to be making serious decisions based on reason and, yes, the western rational tradition rather than some funny but ultimately senseless zinger by the school’s mascot.

Has the bump in interest provided by Stickman been a benefit to Kettering? Short term, it seems positive, but how will it play long-term? Here’s my concern: the downside of associating Stickman to a college brand, is the junk which has now been attached to Stickman at the top of the search engines: Subservient Stickman.

No, I’m not advocating stuffy, predictable bureaucratese. Most college videos I’ve ever seen are unendurable. I’m advocating truthful and memorable storytelling. I have seen the benefits of credible, compelling, immediate, socially-interwoven rich media that builds brand equity.

“Authentic” and “sarcastic” are not synonyms. Making it authentic does not mean making it disrespectful, irreverent, or ironic. It means making the claims precisely and demonstrably true, without hubris or puffery. And communicating effectively with rich media requires an emphasis on appropriate emotion, not “facts”. It means story-telling with just the right mixture of humor, humanity, and gravitas.

Will these kinds of weighty communication efforts go viral? Not often. But they’re worth paying for because they have value.

Ultimately, aspiring to get the marketing equivalent of perpetual motion is not just fraught with risk; it could be downright foolish and create a perpetual emotion, a damaging double-entendre that sticks like glue and measurably hurts the most important thing a college has: its reputation.

PS — Andy, I hope to meet you some day and settle this little disagreement over humor methods with a friendly (and funny) contest… hot-dog eating? jousting? inflatable Sumo smackdowns? Or we could have a recite-off of our favorite aphoristic writers. I elect Alexander Pope, Francis Bacon, Mark Twain and Piet Hein… 🙂