If you live in the Austin, TX area and haven't been exposed to the ads touting St. Edward's University, then you probably either live in a cave or avoid all forms of mass media communication. It's hard to escape the ads--and not just because they're clever and funny, but also because they've been circulating throughout the Austin region for the last three years.
The ads are part of the university's "Learn to Think" marketing campaign, which was launched in 2001 and designed to build brand awareness and recruit college-bound students. So far, it has achieved its goals and more. Not only has enrollment grown nine percent from the fall of 2001 to the fall of 2003, but retention rates have also improved, undergraduate inquiries and applications are at record levels, and faculty, staff, and alumni giving is at an all-time high.
Part of the campaign's success is due to its multimedia nature. Comprised of four radio ads, three TV ads, three billboard ads, and two print ads, the campaign is able to successfully reach its target audience, which includes college-bound teens and their parents, working adults who are prospects for undergraduate or graduate education, and donors and alumni.
The campaign's tagline "Learn to Think" is intended "to open people's minds to critical and ethical thinking and to inspire people to want to make a contribution in the world" says Paige Booth, vice president of marketing at St. Edward's.
A touch of humor. Most institutions shy away from humor to convey their messages. But not St. Edward's. The radio ads are very funny and spark listeners to tune-in to the commercials.
Down-to-earth images. The ad series is fun, creative, and playfully implemented. It gives the impression that St. Edward's is a place to learn down-to-earth knowledge from people who don't take themselves too seriously.
Relevant themes. The TV ads offer familiar images that all viewers can relate to. The images reference a Western movie, as depicted by two gunfighters, a horror movie featuring a mad physician, and news footage of a tornado, which is effective because of the modern day interest in storms.
Clear, succinct messages. The ads strive to promote one or two messages. As a result, the messages are clear and well received.
Easy access to contact info. The university's phone number and Web site are conveyed clearly on the radio ads and are well displayed on the print ads.
Great tagline. "Learn to Think" really sums up what the campaign (as well as the college learning experience) is all about. The logo is nicely incorporated into the ads and leaves a lasting impression on the viewer/listener.
Good color variety. Not only is there a nice mix of black and white and color ads, but they're also used in the proper context. The Frankenstein TV ad wouldn't be effective in color, just as the "Lighting Projects" ad wouldn't be as effective without color.
Punchy logo. The bold blue and yellow are striking color choices for the logo.
Nice academic tie-in. Not only do the ads relate to specific courses offered at the university, but all of the courses highlighted sound interesting and fun.
Good use of students. It is smart of St. Edward's to include students in the ad images. It gives the ads a human, interactive feel.
Soothing Voices. Listeners will take notice of the pleasant voice-overs on the TV and radio ads.
Risky images. In the "Rise of the City" print ad, the observing student looks as if she is in a potentially dangerous situation She is on top of a pile of shaky building blocks that are being carefully balanced by the young boy. This is not a positive image.
Lacks broad appeal. These ads are less likely to appeal to traditionally aged students, particularly the black and white "Medical Ethics" ad. They could have used a more modern-day scenario to depict the same message.
Spell-out course offerings. Because the ads highlight only a handful of courses, many people will not realize that the university does in fact offer more courses.
Missing info. The ads focus only on the courses offered at the university. They make no reference to the size of the university, the campus, activities, or cost.
Static images. The "Group Dynamics" print ad, in which a student is placed in the middle of a foosball table, is a very static shot. Where is the action?
Odd sound choices. In the radio ads, the animal sounds don't work as a precursor to the "organizational communications" course.
Include modern themes. In the Medical Ethics TV ad, a more modern-day scenario, such as a cloning scene, could be used instead.
Re-evaluate images. In the "Rise of the City" print ad, it would be better to place the student in a different observation position so that the student doesn't look like she is in danger. Also, in the lighting projects print ad, a different scene might work better, such as a scene of a lighting specialist for a play or an electrical engineer observing city lighting.
More action shots. Include more action in the foosball print ad, or choose a different sport or activity to relay the ad's message.
Highlight course diversity. These ads could highlight more than one course each. The ads could have specified that these are just a few of the many courses offered at St. Edward's.
Emphasize undergraduate students. The TV ads should zoom in on the students to emphasize the fact that these students are undergraduates.
Advertise Web site. Give the university Web site some prominence by placing the URL on the television ads below the university logo.
Sherrill Kushner is the parent of a college junior.
Keith Moore is principal of Keith Moore Associates (www.keithmooreassociates.com), a marketing and communications consultancy specializing in higher education.
Sara Lindholm is a senior at Guilderland High School (NY).
Jim and Kris McKeever are guidance counselors at Antigo High School (WI).