Mixing Apples and apples. We’ve heard much about the claim by Apple Inc. that New York City’s fresh GreeNYC logo is too similar to its own and must be pruned. Apart from the drawing of the leaf, we think the graphic look of the GreeNYC logo bears little similarity to Apple’s, making it hard to confuse one with the other. Besides, New York has a legitimate claim to the word “apple,” since “The Big Apple” has been New York’s nickname since the 1930s. We understand Apple’s right to protect its trademark, but this nitpicking demonstrates that two very strong and very different brands make it hard to confuse apples with Apples.
Truth in packaging. Recently, I received an intriguingly bulky envelope in the mail that aroused my curiosity. I opened it and was disappointed to find a square of bubble wrap—the cause of the bulkiness—“protecting” a letter that was a sales pitch for a financial institution. Although the package’s shape persuaded me to open it, I did not appreciate being tricked into expecting something more. Perhaps this approach will garner some interest in the short term, but a marketing strategy that relies on trickery can only backfire over the long haul by making a company seem untrustworthy. We prefer envelopes that honestly entice us to investigate further. The envelopes we designed for the University of Baltimore did just that.
Clever copy draws attention and encourages a closer look. We can’t measure the exact impact of these envelopes, but we know that actual applications more than doubled projections.
Frightening food for thought. I saw these containers in a deli while on a recent trip to upstate New York. The misspelling reminded me that typos can be quite funny. But when you’re working on the other side of the deli counter, typos are rarely funny and can result in ghastly reprints, confusion, and embarrassment. We communicators must stand by the accuracy of our work. And those are words we should never have to eat.
Learning from the logo mistakes of others. The world’s most overused design device is making another appearance in the recently revamped Dairy Queen logo. I’m not quite sure what compelled the redesign in the first place, since the original logo is a fine example of clean, simple design that has decades of recognition equity. The distinctive typeface of the original has now been “modernized” with a serif, italic font—two no-nos when legibility on signage is imperative. There is no longer a space between the D and Q, which intensifies the poor legibility. But even these blunders seem insignificant when compared to the monstrous upper and lower swooshes that obscure the strong background shape. Colleges can learn from mistakes like these, because we share a common problem with corporations like Dairy Queen—making our identities memorable to our audiences. Adding swooshes and italic type to a traditional logo does not a new logo make. To the contrary, adding superficial flourishes may only distort and complicate your logo—and your identity—in the eyes of audiences.
Are you zug? Cruising through a magazine recently, I came across an ad that made me stop to read more closely. Attached to the magazine page was a tiny 12-page booklet about a new car in the Mini Cooper family. This novel marketing approach introduced a new word, “zug,” meaning “to be unlike others; to do something different.” The ad made a strong case for the zugness of Mini Cooper’s new car until, a few pages later, I came across another mini-booklet for another car manufacturer. You can’t be different or unlike others if your competitors are using the same marketing tactic. Even when you think your messages are distinctive, they may not be. That’s why it’s important to keep track of your competitors and then go your own way.
The great Chinese logo cover-up Watching the Beijing Olympics, I was confused to see an athlete with a patch of duct tape stuck to her swimsuit. What was the tape covering—was it a form of personal protest? I quickly found an answer online: Beijing Olympic organizers tried to ensure that only the logos of official Olympic sponsors would be visible on television. I later learned that the Beijing “logo police” enthusiastically covered logos on bathroom fixtures, posters, light switches, thermostats, and more in the effort to control non-sponsor visibility. There were reports that curious visitors to the Olympics could not resist peeling away the tape to see what was hidden underneath.
I was surprised to learn that brand protection laws are not new to the Olympics, but have been in practice during past games as well. What is new is the level of enforcement by Chinese officials. I found that strange mix of authoritarianism and capitalism to be one of the more enduring impressions of the games.
Off-track logo Capital Off-Track Betting’s logo caught my eye on a recent visit to New York. Why? I think there are a number of problems—starting with the unnecessary fussiness and clutter of shapes that attempt to define and separate the horse from the letterforms. There are other clumsy shapes created by the horse’s nose jutting into the “t.” And why is the “t” lower case when it’s upper case in the organization’s name?
The shape of the horse emerging from the letterforms is most problematic. Racing is a powerful forward movement of the horse on the track. Here, the curve of the shape causes the eye to move backward, going against the natural flow of the sport. Correcting the awkward rendering is only part of the problem. The bigger challenge is to design a mark that faithfully portrays the essence of the organization it represents.
No Bullwinkle When I first received an email from an administrator with the last name Bullwinkle, I thought it was spam. It wasn’t, so I emailed her back, and here is her reply:
It’s really my last name. I grew up in a small town so everyone knew us and didn’t respond to the name at all. But my brother, who is about 20 years older, was in the army when the cartoon was on the air and he had to do a lot of pushups in response to giving his name. COs just didn’t believe him. Oh, and Facebook initially rejected me because of my name. There’s not many of us, so I really like it.
Many institutions and organizations possess what may be thought of as unfortunate names. This woman’s positive spin on her situation reminds us that if something is attention-getting, it helps you stand out from your competition. Then, it’s up to your PR efforts to take that attention and focus it on your institution’s strengths and key marketing messages.
Where’s the love? The first love poem was written on a cuneiform tablet around 2030 BC, and we’ve been writing tales of romance, passion, and star-crossed lovers ever since. From the story of Ruth to Romeo and Juliet to Love Story, the theme endures. If we can write about one subject for over 4,000 years, why is it so hard to say something new about getting a good college education? How many times have we heard universities tout“faculty who really care about each individual student,” “dynamic and rigorous academics,” and “warm, caring campus communities”? The repetition is unconvincing and tiresome. The challenge for educational communicators—not to mention poets and novelists—is to find fresh, unexpected ways to explore a familiar topic. That’s the way to make your website and print materials stand out from the crowd, and your readers will love you for it.
Punctuation is important. Period. Periods, commas, and hyphens matter. Surfing the internet, we stumbled upon this powerful demonstration of what can go wrong when you misuse these small things in life:
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy—will you let me be yours?
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?
Yellow and white dinosaurs on my porch. I came home a few days ago to find that the phone company had delivered two new bulky directories to my front door. My first reaction was, oh rats—more recycling! You see, I don’t use phone books anymore. I can’t remember the last time I actually thumbed through one. If we are really concerned about protecting the environment, we need to rethink the production and distribution of a product that will largely end up in the next trash/recycling pick up. Why not make phone books an opt-in product? The phone companies could send a letter to all customers asking them whether or not they wish to continue receiving their directories. That way, the books will only go to those customers who still use them. Trees will be saved, energy will be conserved, and the environment will be better protected.
No-name brands About 10 years ago, I took a trip to Egypt and brought back a treasure that is still pinned to the wall in my office—a packet of Chiclets printed in Arabic script. I was amazed that the product was instantly recognizable even though I have no clue how to read Arabic. Several products are now being promoted solely through the use of brand shape and color. Last fall, billboards in town displayed a huge smiling face with a pop-art style background of rice boxes. Who wouldn’t recognize the man as Uncle Ben, even though the type on the boxes was too small to read? This summer, Baltimore billboards display playful words like “chewniversity,” “hungerectomy,” and “substantialicious” in colors and shapes that evoke the Snickers brand.
Perhaps these no-name campaigns work so well because they make us feel like we’re in on a secret. This “less is more” approach might work for colleges that seek to engage alumni—many of whom are passionate about their alma maters. Consider whether your university could conjure up its brand with color, shape, or a photographic detail alone.
Write hear, right now. I was listening to National Public Radio one morning and stopped in my tracks over an ad for The Daily Record. The voice-over announcer said, “The Daily Record. Know more.” But what I heard was, “The Daily Record. No more.” During this time of great distress for newspapers, such a misunderstanding is especially ominous. What you write and what you say may not always be interpreted the way you intend. Listen closely when you translate an ad campaign from print to broadcast media.
Classroom technology blues I took a campus tour recently and observed a professor teaching with the aid of a PowerPoint presentation. The classroom was new, sleek, and fully wired with all the latest technologies. But the designer in me cringed at the clunky typography and stale graphics in the PowerPoint slides. I spoke with the professor after class, and he explained that faculty members are encouraged to leave chalk and markers behind in favor of new presentation technologies. This is a great idea in theory. However, unless faculty are trained in design, typography, color theory, and a dozen other disciplines that help shape information graphics, the classroom could become a showcase for visual mediocrity.
SMART Board technology will save notes for future use, allow teachers to pull up the Internet during a presentation, and more—but there are still drawbacks that need to be worked out. Professors must be technically savvy so that class time is not wasted searching for content online or troubleshooting the technology. The SMART Board pens are an exciting feature, but handwriting needs to be impeccable for many of these boards to recognize the letterforms.
I remember admiring the spontaneous beauty of a professor’s chalked notes on a board and listening as those notes were expanded throughout the lecture. There was something fresh and organic about that simple way of communicating information. I hope that as teaching technologies improve, they will bring not only a world of information to the classroom but also help professors communicate their own personal energy and style.
The marriage of art and science I recently visited Fallingwater, the famous home of the Kaufmann family designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Fallingwater is unlike any building I’ve ever seen, partly because of the way the building blends so beautifully into the natural setting. The walls were built from stone cut from the surrounding mountains, and the windows are designed to frame the outside landscape. From every room inside the house, you can hear the falls rushing below.
The way the structure reflects the natural environment reminds me that art and science are interconnected. When the two are in balance, the result is breathtaking harmony. This is something to remember when designing a website or any complex print piece. We need to remember that function alone is not enough. We also need to treat our readers to a visually stimulating experience. Check out the Fallingwater website for more information about the facilities or to schedule a visit.
Branding the neighborhood, Hon Baltimore restaurant owner Denise Whiting did not invent the pink flamingo yard ornament or the beehive hairdo, nor did she coin the salutation “Hon.” But she has taken all of these Baltimore traditions and associated them with the neighborhood of Hampden. When Whiting opened Café Hon on “The Avenue” in Hampden, she encouraged other restaurant and shop owners to take the chance on the area, too. Whiting even createdHonFest, a huge two-day summer festival that celebrates Baltimore’s colorful customs. And now, Hampden is well known as a fun, kitschy place to eat, drink, and shop. At first, it may seem counter-intuitive to call attention to the cheesy and maybe outdated traditions and events that make your institution different, but the point is to stand out from your competitors. Emphasizing your homey, familiar side might just win the hearts of your audience.
Fast food joints upgrade their ambience Have you noticed that your favorite fast food restaurants (McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell) are all getting makeovers? When you walk into one of their newly renovated locations, you have to stop and wonder if you walked into the wrong place. This building with modern décor and ambient lighting can’t possibly have your favorite #3 value meal on the menu…can it? Yes, it can. But does the new interior make the food taste better or improve your experience? We think that a comfortable atmosphere contributes to the experience of comfort food. Furthermore, an improvement in experience improves customer loyalty to the brand.
Capitalizing on distinctiveness Taco Bell has rolled out heavy marketing for the limited-time addition to their value menu, the Black Jack Taco. They have done what we advise our clients to do—take whatever it is that makes you or your program unique and find memorable ways to emphasize that specific characteristic. Television and radio spots promote and emphasize the unusual color of the new taco, making a connection to black boots, black dresses, and even black sheep in an edgy, seductive way. Social networking sites are buzzing with references to the black taco, both good and bad. But the point is, they are buzzing. What can your marketing do to get people talking about your school?
Coming unglued over see-through envelopes I’ve noticed an increase in the number of transparent cellophane envelopes in my mailbox. Many of these pieces arrive from photographers and artists, but I’ve seen them used to carry admissions pieces from colleges, too. The see-through stock allows you to entice the recipient with a preview of the letter’s content. At first glance, it makes brilliant sense—but there is a downside that should be considered. The glue that holds the envelope together is also visible, and it is not pretty. The stock is quite brittle, making it difficult to open. Add to these disadvantages the need to place a label on the face of the envelope, which creates another visual distraction. My conclusion? What appears to be a good solution is really a problem in disguise. I’d rather focus my energy on great copy or images imprinted on a non-transparent envelope.
Going green goes the distance The recent Baltimore Marathon was one of the first “green” races in the country. All clothing items discarded during the race were donated to the Salvation Army. All cups and other trash were recycled. All commemorative t-shirts were made from recycled materials. Organizers must have known that participating in eco-friendly activities matters to people. According to a global study on consumer response to climate change:
79% of consumers would rather buy from companies doing their best to reduce their impact on the environment
89% of people are likely to buy more green goods in the next 12 months
74% of consumers feel they can actively contribute to solving climate change
(Conducted by IPSOS over nine countries—US, UK, Germany, France, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, India, and China—using over 11,000 online interviews and 18 focus groups)
Take a look at your campus activities and ask, could this be made green? After all, it’s not just about capturing more of the green market, it’s more about positioning your institution as a leader in preserving the environment for future generations.
Admissions departments enlist student bloggers GCF interns, Beth Kelley and Jenna Mucci share: The very first thing I do when I’m about to schedule classes for the upcoming semester is visit ratemyprofessors.com and scroll through the numerous blogs about instructors. Over the years, these blogs have helped me choose my ideal professors. Recently, colleges and universities have begun placing student blogs directly on their admissions sites. In these blogs, current students write about classes, professors, events, politics, gossip, and an endless array of other topics. Not every school has been eager to feature non-edited student blogs, but institutions such as MIT, William & Mary, and UMBC have already embraced the concept. There are many things to consider when choosing a class or a college. Student blogs provide an insider’s perspective that helps round out the available information.
Mixed message of the month Sloppy punctuation makes this sign humorously confusing. But there’s a serious lesson to learn: Why give audiences a chance to get the wrong idea? Better to be clear up front and avoid having to eat your words later.
Bad design—the Bermuda Triangle for marketing messages A van traveling around Baltimore caught our design attention. The connection between the company name and the symbol is an unsolved mystery. Yes, there’s a triangular shape in there, but the dictionary asserts that a triad is a group of three. Why are there are only two arrows? We communicators are responsible for driving our messages home, so we need to be on the lookout for phrases and pictures that take our audiences off course. The ancient Greeks knew this when they created the symbol for trinacria, the ancient name for Sicily. The symbol’s three feet represent Sicily’s triangular shape and the three points of the island that face different directions. The symbol is so powerful that it is still in use today, on the flag of Sicily. Don’t let your marketing messages disappear into the Bermuda Triangle of bad design—make sure that graphic elements and words work together to keep communications on track.
The launch date for your fabulous new website is always precarious.
The president’s spouse has final say on any projects requiring a color choice.
The alumni magazine publication date has no relationship to the copy due date.
Proofreading is only seriously performed when the job is delivered from the printer.
The major donor’s monitor is never set to view the campaign website correctly.
The student you prominently feature on the cover of the viewbook will suddenly drop out of school.
Photo captions in the alumni news section will not match all the photos.
The type will always be too small for somebody.
The logo will never be big enough for somebody.
Once copy is approved, there will be a major rewrite.
All print pieces will contain a typo that the president will discover.
After you proofread 64 pages of 8 pt. type, the only mistake will be on the cover in 72 pt. type.
Narcolepsy rates increase in proportion to the length of your Powerpoint presentation.
The person responsible for final approval will be out of town during a major due date.
The meeting date will need to move as soon as all invitees are confirmed.
The perfect idea is always shot down.
The photoshoot will be complete just before a major executive gets a haircut.
Rain is in the forecast for all outdoor photoshoots.
There are never any kids on campus when your photographer is.
Whoever does not attend the creative meeting will hate the design.
The tighter the budget, the more things go wrong.
Have you ever received an email that left you wondering what exactly the sender meant to say? Do you feel it necessary to pepper your emails with exclamation points to seem more cheerful? Sometimes we forget how helpful tone of voice and body language can be when communicating with people. When it comes to conveying emotion, apologies, or bad news, saying it in person may be the best way. Then you can use not just words, but your face, hands, stance, inflection, and volume to get your message across.
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Biting off more than your customer can chew I don’t know about you, but I tend to avoid any restaurant that “specializes” in more than one ethnic cuisine. This approach suggests a lack of commitment. After all, what schizophrenic cook can balance the butter- and cream-based cooking of France with the olive oil-, lemon-, and basil-based cooking of Italy? And how does the All-American burger fit between them? The matchbook pictured above reminds me of an important guideline in marketing: “Find out what you do best, and do it better than anyone else.” That’s the best way to fill a restaurant—and your incoming freshman class.
The great pyramid of Giza was built over 4500 years ago, and we’ve spent as many years puzzling over how it was done. Although one theory supposes that the Egyptians partnered with aliens who possessed levitation technology, most hypotheses focus on down-to-earth methods for dragging and lifting huge blocks of stone into place. The two most popular theories suggest that the stone blocks were dragged up either a massive frontal ramp or a corkscrew-shaped ramp attached to the exterior of the pyramid. Both of these popular theories have their flaws, however, so archeologists and engineers alike are still scratching their heads.
When the answer eludes us, we need a new way to look at a problem. That’s exactly what French architect Jean-Pierre Houdin found. He quit his day job, sold his house, and moved into a small apartment where he devoted his time to figuring out how the pyramid was constructed. He emerged, eight years later, with a theory that is startling, inspiring, and, according to Houdin, the only one that works. He suggests that internal ramps that still exist within the pyramid were used to transport the blocks to the top. (It’s interesting to note that Houdin’s theory is supported by visuals made with the latest in 3-D computer imaging technology. Check out the program on The National Geographic Channel.)
Whether you’re a scientist, a writer, a web programmer, or an educator, Houdin’s story inspires us to revisit the power of unconventional thinking. As a designer, I’ve learned to be suspicious of the first answer that comes to me. That first idea may be expected, conventional. Conversely, the best solutions have depth. They surprise us and challenge the status quo.
Pablo Picasso once said of his creative process, “When one begins a picture one often discovers fine things. One ought to beware of these, destroy one’s picture, recreate it many times. On each destruction of a beautiful find… he transforms it, condenses it, makes it more substantial.”
Communicators can’t expect audiences to pay attention if we serve up the same old information in the same old forms. Instead, let innovators such as Houdin and Picasso inspire your creative process: think, rethink, think, and rethink again.
An unfortunate flaw I finally replaced my 10-year-old ailing Honda CRV with a brand-new Acura RDX. The styling of the car is sleek inside and out. I admire the attention the designers paid to details like the inside console panel, which features beautifully styled climate controls, well-lit gauges in blue and white, and metallic trim that accents the high-tech look.
Unfortunately, there is a flaw—the navigation screen display (shown above) is a six-inch rectangle of clunky digital type smack in the middle of the console. It reminds me of some college websites and viewbooks that exhibit one jarring, disharmonious note in an otherwise well-balanced design. Making compromises in design is painful. There are times when we reluctantly water-down a design for political reasons, or for lack of time or budget. We hope that no one else will notice, but to us, the flaw is a constant reminder of circumstances beyond our control that compromise the quality of the final product. We can console ourselves with the fact that there is so much to love about the rest of the design. After all, I still chose the RDX in spite of its one unfortunate blemish.
Sicilian journal I brought my camera along on a recent trip to Sicily. Here are a few photos of the trip with comments from a designer/marketer’s perspective (all photos by Domenica unless noted otherwise):
A wonderful marketing strategy. The artist/shopkeeper works on her craft while visitors browse through her store. Seeing the artist at work personalizes the experience for visitors. I could not resist buying a small plate from her, and I have a feeling many visitors to this store have a similar reaction.
An incongruous moment in Palermo. Does the shopkeeper realize that the bright blue plastic chair steals the scene on his showroom floor? (Photo by Grace Weitman)
Timeless beauty. It is easy to miss this Roman inscription tucked away in a narrow side street in the seaside town of Cefalu. The letterforms have a timeless beauty. Will any of the typography we use today endure so long?
Clever recycling. Bedsprings make dandy fencing around a Sicilian garden.
Italian smile. A classic Vespa gives the world a smile.
Good Inn Tension On a recent business trip to St. Louis, I experienced a hotel marketing idea with a mixed message. As my taxi arrived at the upscale inn, two handsome men in uniform greeted me at the door and offered to help me with my bags. Check in was quick, and I was impressed and pleased with the room accommodations. There was even a small, carefully packaged pink satchel on the bed stuffed with things for me to use during my stay. As I pored through the contents of the satchel—earplugs, scented spray, eye mask—I became uneasy. Would my room be noisy, smelly, and too bright? I’m sure the hotel had expected me to feel pampered, but their pretty pink satchel made me feel apprehensive instead. The lesson learned? Good intentions are not enough. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience. It’s an easy way to test whether or not you’re sending out mixed messages.
Sometimes low tech is high efficiency One of our printers prefers to track job flow with a very low-tech system: a job board with hand-written index cards that can be manually moved and re-ordered when necessary. Staff members prefer the board to tracking software, even though the rest of the shop uses nothing but the latest in printing software and technology. In their experience, the index-card system simply works best. Is it dangerous to suggest that new is not always better and that some things are fine just as they are?
Recently I replaced my toaster oven because I got tired of waiting around all morning to brown a slice of bread. My new toaster oven looked great with a stainless steel cabinet and industrial style handle and glass window. I was shocked to discover that it performed as poorly as the old one. Why can’t they make toasters like the one my mom had over 30 years ago? That baby was sweet and quick and worked flawlessly for decades. It’s fine to be dazzled by the gleam of the new, but everything that shines is not always better.
It’s okay to be crabby, hon I saw this cab on my way in to work one day and wondered why any company would want to describe itself as “crabby.” Wouldn’t that be a marketing disaster? Then I realized why it’s acceptable…because we’re in Baltimore, hon, and we have cornered the market on crabby. Just don’t try this in New York City.
Audience participation required Meryl Streep graces the January cover of Vanity Fair, proving the obvious: you can’t pin an age on star power. In an industry that has historically ignored middle-aged actresses and their fans, 60-year-old Streep has enjoyed starring roles in several wildly popular movies. As the article states, “Streep’s success has forced Hollywood to consider a startling hypothesis: If you make movies that actually interest women, they will buy tickets to see them.”
We see a parallel with alumni magazines. Clients often lament that readership is down and wonder if they should discontinue the publication. Perhaps it’s time to walk a mile in readers’ shoes. Stop writing about the things that interest the institution and start writing about the things that interest your audience. Give your readers reasons to be proud. Remind them of your institution’s value to the world and, like Hollywood, you may be surprised to rediscover the obvious—if you respect the needs of your alumni, they’ll respond with enthusiastic support.
Controlling the conversation NPR recently aired a story about 18-year-old Colton Harris-Moore, who has a global fan base. No, he’s not a musician, a model, or an actor—he’s a convicted felon who has a knack for escaping captivity and eluding capture. And even though he has stolen from many people, he has a following of fans around the world. Harris-Moore himself seems to have exerted no effort toward growing his own popularity, but his Facebook fan page boasts over 17,000 members.
Harris-Moore has an intriguing story that has taken on a life of its own. Just think what your institution could do with social media if you took control of the conversation should an unfortunate event happen on campus. Negative stories are going to get out. If there’s a robbery on campus, everyone will be talking. But if, through social media, you focus the buzz on what the institution is doing to address safety concerns, you could show that the security situation is improving, rather than degenerating. If a villain like Harris-Moore can be made a hero, then surely your university’s image does not need to be another victim when bad things happen.
But wait…don’t order yet! What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word Snuggie? For most people, it’s “I hate that commercial for those shapeless bags with arm holes!” In spite of the annoying ads, who received a Snuggie for the holidays this year? Could the Snuggie be a really good idea in disguise? Sure, it’s dumpy, but it’s comfortable and it really keeps you warm. Who says you should only wear the Snuggie while curled up on the living room sofa? Why not throw style to the wind and get cozy in that drafty office? Or go on a popular Snuggie pub crawl with other blanket-wearing fans?
Presidents who tweet Social media, in contrast to mass emails, websites, and print media, connects you with thousands of people with one tweet or one status update—immediately. This article encourages high-level corporate managers to join the conversation in an authentic way to build audience connections with the company. The same philosophy can apply to colleges. If the president and dean are sharing their thoughts with followers on Twitter and fans on Facebook, they will connect more deeply with audiences than they would on a generalized institutional account.
Which one is not like the other? Have you heard of the Nexus One? Maybe not, but chances are you have heard of the iPhone. Nexus One is Google’s contribution to the smart phone world and was supposed to outsell Apple’s popular iPhone. In an ultra competitive field, Google failed because of its lack of effective marketing. The lesson for higher education is this: the student experience may or may not be unique at your school. But if you don’t get the word out to potential students, it won’t matter because they won’t realize your institution exists.
What’s in a name? Comcast is changing its name to Xfinity. Here I thought Xfinity was a new product Comcast was offering and would potentially increase my cable bill by $30 each month. After all, in the TV commercials, the voiceover says, “Comcast introduces Xfinity.” It wasn’t until I saw their competitor’s commercial that I understood Xfinity is a new name, not a new product. Consumers resist change (remember New Coke?) but being so subtle that the public doesn’t even know what you are talking about won’t help solidify a new image.
To clear matters up, I Googled Xfinity. Google, formerly BackRub, underwent its own name change in1998. There’s a name change of which we all probably approve. Xfinity has its own website and offers live Chat Support. Willard (and you have to wonder if that is his real name) was very helpful. I asked, “How is Xfinity different than my current Comcast service? Is this a name change for Comcast? Will my bills come from Xfinity?”
His eventual response was, “Well, Xfinity is just rebranding the Comcast package but Comcast will stay the same.”
Why do companies change their names? Is it to clean up a tarnished image and prevent negative associations? Such was the case when Philip Morris, which owns Kraft Foods, changed its name to Altria Group. It’s easy to understand why the world’s largest tobacco company wouldn’t want us thinking about Marlboros when we bite into our Oreos.
Basically, the public will continue to use the nomenclature they prefer. When the Sears Tower in Chicago was renamed last year, local opposition was so strong, it resulted in a web site—ItsTheSearsTower.com—and a Facebook site with 97,000 followers—People Against the Sears Tower Name Change. And Sears hasn’t even occupied the building in 17 years.
Name changes work when they create a positive and clearly understood image. And a little clear warning doesn’t hurt either.
Slug bug! Volkswagen reintroduces an old childhood game in their humorous new commercials. This is great advertising—making people laugh, linking a product to fond childhood recollections, and causing audiences to remember the brand.
Whoaaaa! Who thought THAT was a good idea? My eyeballs were recently assaulted when I opened an email solicitation from a stock photo house. The choice of image on their open for business announcement made me cringe. Here’s the link if you’d like to see for yourself, but don’t forget I warned you first! This is a classic case of knowing what you want to say but failing to consider your audience. It reminds me of a similar incident many years ago while talking with a rep from a paper mill. To show me the printability of a certain stock he pulled out a commercial sample—a newsletter by a wildlife management organization. I remember gasping in horror at the cover photo of a deer tangled in barbed wire. The rep was so focused on showing how well the stock prints that he overlooked the obvious. What’s the lesson learned? Know what you want to say and then put yourself in the shoes of your audience. Never move forward with a marketing strategy without looking at it from both sides.
Dear [insert name here] I recently received an email that made me feel like a nobody. My name in the greeting appeared in a much smaller font than the rest of the message. This flub revealed the email for what it was—a mass mailing disguised as a personal message. If your institution uses an email program to forge connections with students, parents, donors, or friends, make sure it works seamlessly. Otherwise, you may be sending them the wrong message.
Super-SCARY-fragilisticexpialodocious Don’t watch this re-cut version of the original Mary Poppins trailer all alone! Using only footage from the movie and adding a bit of editing and music, this videographer succeeded in creating a downright terrifying remake of the original children’s movie trailer. This is a strong example of the power of presentation. All of the clips in the trailer are found in the real movie, but the context in which they’re given here send a completely different message than the movie’s original sentiment. Here’s further validation to the adage: “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.”
Are you smarter than a 4th grader? Apparently none of the designers, ride operators, or masses of tourists were particularly bothered by a typo on a Walt Disney World sign that was erected eleven years ago. In May, a fourth grader finally brought the mistake to the park officials’ attention, and was thanked accordingly. Perhaps it takes a fresh perspective—someone who has just recently learned to spell, in this instance—to see an error. It seems more likely, however, that many saw the error, but no one bothered to take the necessary steps to correct it. This illustrates an important marketing point: the status quo is not necessarily acceptable simply because nobody has raised an objection to it. Innovation requires someone to speak up and identify a problem.
Glass half full … of oil On a recent layover in an airport I searched for something to read while waiting to board. Sitting right next to each other at a newsstand were two magazines with cover stories on—you guessed it—the oil spill. They covered the same topic, but take a look at the headlines: “What the Spill Will Kill,” and “How to Clean Up the Mess.” Which one would you have bought?
This anecdote illustrates a point that applies to more than print media: the tone of a message is critical. A reader only needs to glance at a few words to make a decision about the substance of the article, and as a consumer it took me mere seconds to decide that one article would be more useful than the other without reading a single sentence of either. Even if the content of the message is decidedly unfortunate, the way it’s communicated could make or break a connection with the audience.
Reading between the lines Finding that perfect restaurant, hotel, or travel destination has gotten a lot easier, thanks to reader reviews available on websites like tripadvisor or Google maps. Here are a few ways to evaluate the raves and the pans to be sure they don’t steer you astray.
Many sites allow you to read all the ratings by any given reviewer. Check them out to better understand why someone wrote a five-star or one-star review. For example, a five-star review of a restaurant in Utah lost its luster when I noticed that the reviewer also gave five-star ratings to Denny’s and Taco Bell.
Read between the lines of extremely harsh reviews. Do you clearly see a justifiable gripe? Or does the reviewer appear to be unfair? Try comparing reviews from different people on the same restaurant. If the same problem occurs repeatedly for many people, it’s a good bet the review is justifiable. Also, don’t just look at the average rating for a given restaurant, because one zero-star can bring an average way down. Instead, look at the ratio of positive to negative reviews and see if there’s a trend.
If you do your homework, you’re more likely to find that perfect restaurant or weekend splurge.
Stonehenge vs. Foamhenge On a recent trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, we happened across Foamhenge—an exact replica of the Stonehenge in England, made entirely of styrofoam. Mark Cline, the creator of this replica, included humorous signs throughout the structure. For instance, the signs make light of the fact that while the real Stonehenge took 1500 years to complete, Foamhenge was completed in six weeks.
Cline says the purpose of Foamhenge is to educate and entertain. Mission accomplished! It may not be the actual Stonehenge, but using a model and adding in his own personal sense of humor, Cline has created a tourist attraction that exists independently but still nods at its inspiration.
Wake up and smell the steak Marketers in North Carolina are taking the idea of appealing to the senses to a whole new level with scented billboards. The jury is still out on whether or not people really want to smell dinner cooking on their way to work at 7:30 a.m.
Welcome to Leisureville I recently visited my aunt who lives in Leisureville, one of Florida’s abundant retirement communities. I was struck not only by the precisely manicured lawns but also by the retro look of the community. It felt like a living time capsule. It reminded me that the physical look and feel of a place can really do a lot to make us feel at home. What are you doing to make your alumni feel warm and welcome when they visit campus?
The tagline that helped change the worldI recently heard a lecture by Greg Mortenson, the co-author of Three Cups of Tea. Mortenson is a humanitarian who believes that building schools in poverty-striken communities is a powerful way to promote peace. I was intrigued when he mentioned the fight he had with his publishers about the book’s tagline. The publishers insisted the line should read, “One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations…One School at a Time.” Unable to convince them otherwise, Mortenson let the book go to print. That first edition met with moderate success, selling around 20,000 copies. For the paperback version, Mortenson was able to convince the publisher to change the tagline to his preferred wording, “One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time.” Interestingly, the book then soared to the top of the New York Times bestseller list and remained there for three years. To date, over 4 million copies of the book have been sold.
The right tagline does matter, and as this example demonstrates, people crave positive messaging. As Mortenson says, “If you just fight terrorism, it’s based in fear. If you promote peace, it’s based in hope.” As we communicate with our audiences, perhaps we should borrow a page from Mortenson’s book. Covering the accomplishments of faculty and students who are doing research or otherwise engaged in works that improve lives will not only demonstrate your school’s value to the world, but will also make your publications more appealing to audiences.
Sunglasses or drill bits?The Chilean miners who were rescued after spending months trapped underground owe their freedom to many people from different walks of life. Oakley donated expensive sunglasses to protect the miners’ eyes when they resurfaced into daylight. And a Pennsylvania company, Center Rock Incorporated, manufactured the drill bits used to bore the hole that eventually became the escape hatch. When comparing these two stories, one is much more touching and memorable than the other.The people at Oakley sent a product, and they have since been widely criticized for “cashing in” on the situation. In contrast, the guys from Center Rock traveled to Chile and worked around the clock to reach the captive miners. The interviewed employee teared up when he recalled seeing the drill come through the ceiling of the miners’ refuge.
Many organizations are engaged in giving back to the community. But as the contrast between these two examples shows, giving money or goods may not garner the kind of attention you seek. Put people on the ground who get their hands dirty and engage in human interaction—now that’s a story that will tug at the heartstrings and give audiences an emotional connection to your institution.
The next big thing Check out this “futuristic” astronaut suit conceptualized in 1961. Luckily for Neil Armstrong, the oversized trashcan look went out of style before we actually reached the moon.
In marketing, trying to predict the future can have equally silly results. Even when we are using research to inform design, we can’t always know what lies ahead. For example, what would we have done differently years ago if we had foreseen the internet and social media?
On the flip side, if the iPod and cell phone had been invented in 1977, what would they have looked like? One artist answered that question with a series of humorous images using common design elements from the ’70s: square corners, old-fashioned fonts, antiquated names (such as the “LapTron”), and a brown and orange color palette. The title of his series, “We are not Time Travelers,” reminds us that although no one can exactly predict the future, we do need to expect the unexpected and stay flexible.
Don’t destroy the power of your point In this now-famous viral video, the “Double Rainbow guy” gets a little too excited when he catches an alluring glimpse of Mother Nature in Yosemite Park. Although the video is pretty hilarious, you can’t help but marvel at the videographer’s child-like enthusiasm. But look what happens when the clip is summarized in a PowerPoint slide.
We’ve lamented the ineffectiveness of PowerPoint in our newsletter before. This example is another reminder that bad design can kill the power of your messages. Thoughtful concepts and outstanding images can capture and convey the meaning and feeling behind the words. Does your graphic standards manual include PowerPoint guidelines for the admissions and development offices who are often out on the road representing your institution? If not, it should, to ensure that your image is under control.
Shuttering at the thoughtOnce upon a time, window shutters actually had a function. You could open them to let the light in, close them to keep out the rain, and adjust the slats to let in a breeze. Now that central air and storm windows have taken over those homely duties, there’s not much left for the shutter to do. But they are still with us, often nailed fast to the sides of gigantic picture windows in comic disproportion.
Whatever happened to form following function? It’s easy to see the humor here, but why don’t we see the gobs of similarly obsolete ornamentation in our websites and print materials? Curlicue color backgrounds, blinking buttons, arrows pointing in all directions, sun bursts, and drop shadows are cluttering our messages. Luckily, there’s an easy fix. Look at every element on the screen or page and ask, “What does this do?” If you can’t answer, then your audience probably won’t know why it’s there, either.
Hold the anchovies, and other recipes for social media success Papa John’s leveraged social media to generate buzz and online chatter at minimal expense this summer with a “Specialty Pizza Challenge” Contest. Customers were invited to create their own pizza, write a catchy title and description, and harness the power of Facebook and other media outlets to garner support for the new recipe.
After receiving 12,000 entries, Papa John’s selected three finalists and gave them each $1,000 to market their pizza, which was added to the menu during the month of August. The creation that won the largest share of sales, the “Cheesy Chicken Cordon Bleu,” was declared the winner. In the end, the contest winner was successful because she was a better marketer, not necessarily a better pizza creator. But the real winner here is Papa John’s: for $3,000, they received a ton of advertising via social networks, all put in motion by the contestants.
The logo gap Did you see the new Gap logo? You can stop waiting for your computer to download the rest of the graphic—that’s it. Somehow the word GAP within a square worked fine for us. But moving the square outside the type just doesn’t make sense. Perhaps the stockholders didn’t want to move away from the blue square, and they insisted on keeping an element from the old logo. In any case, the redesign raised so much criticism that the parent company retracted itand plans to keep the original.
Before recreating your institution’s logo, you might want to perform some research:
How to cross the street in NYC Who knew crossing the street could be so complicated and confusing? As communicators, we need to beware of over-explaining. Providing too much information can confuse the issue, or unintentionally insult the intelligence of our audience members.
Mixed messagesIn spite of careful planning, thorough research, and exemplary execution, we cannot completely control how marketing messages will be interpreted by audiences. Look closely at the sign above. The original message has been altered by a precisely placed sticker. The result is humorous, although the meaning of the message has changed. In another example, the campaign signs for a candidate for sheriff have been vandalized by a culprit with a sense of humor. Perhaps the aspiring sheriff should show up to his next public appearance dressed like the caped crusader. After all, wouldn’t a superhero make a great sheriff?
When audiences manipulate your materials, whether for the better or worse, don’t take it personally; instead, try and determine how you can benefit from the interest.
Stepping out of line I recently saw a poster (left) designed for ABSA, a financial institution in South Africa. It immediately brought to mind a famous poster (right) created by Paula Scher for the Public Theater in New York. The similarity between the two is obvious, but the reason why they are so alike is not. The easy availability of everything online is blurring the lines of what does or does not constitute plagiarism. If you see it and like it, why not go ahead and use it? This practice of “borrowing” has infiltrated the practice of college paper writing, book publishing, and visual design. We need to restore our understanding of what constitutes an original work in a time where limitless access tempts us to step where we shouldn’t.
The luck of the drawSave the Children launched this fundraising website to dramatize the plight of children born into poverty around the world and to stimulate donations for the organization. On the home page, you can enter your name, spin the “wheel,” and find out where you might have been born a second time around. Then you can learn about being a child in your new country through statistics, Google maps, Flickr images, and sounds. For example, you might have been born in Mali, where the illiteracy rate is 54% and only 20% of babies live past the age of five. These facts are shown along with a video of a baby, who has your name on its hospital bracelet. Clicking the stats takes you to an explanation of how Save the Children has worked to improve the lives of children around the world in each category, along with donation links.
The website does a beautiful job of showing us just how lucky we are, and using your name really personalizes the experience. “The Lottery of Life” demonstrates how institutions can use technology to individualize their messages and help donors relate in ways they might not have before.
Big ideas I recently came across the work of Dutch visual artist Helmut Smits. His images are funny, thought provoking, clever, ironic, and witty. His portfolio is a tribute to the power of ideas to make us pause, smile, think, and react. He reminds me that ideas are at the heart of all great communications—a fact that bears remembering in our hyper-textual, technology-obsessed world.
A serious new logo Comedy Central launched a daring rebrand, including a clean new logo, in January. Some critics have decided that the logo is a spoof on the copyright symbol. Perhaps, but a closer look shows a twist that makes the new logo appropriate for a cable channel that shows us the humor in politics, media, and daily life. The new mark is less busy and confusing on the TV screen, adapts to a wide variety of applications, and looks both smart and fun.
Puzzling parking I encountered this perplexing sign as I searched for a parking space on a recent campus visit. All other spaces were taken, so I wondered if I could be classified as an itinerant. According to Webster’s, an itinerant is a person who travels from place to place. That qualified me. But anyone driving a car would fall into that category. Feeling uncomfortable, I found another space off campus. Inside the building with the client, I learned that the “itinerant” spaces are reserved for teachers who travel from one school to another providing special services. Communicators, take heed: Don’t assume your visitors understand your institution’s language, abbreviations, and acronyms, especially on your website. Be sure the terms you use as links in the navigation can be understood by your online audience.
A thing of the past I recently spied this relic on a subway platform. As anyone who rides the subway knows, cell phones do not generally get reception underground. So if you need to make a call, you might have to rely on the old-fashioned telephone wires a pay phone connects to. We see similarities to the fate of print materials. Seems as though everyone in the marketing business these days wants to know the future of print. Will it be eliminated, eclipsed by the web? In some cases, it’s better to have a tangible source of information that you can physically touch. The alumni magazine is a case in point. Statistics show that the majority of alumni prefer reading the print version of the magazine over the online version while waiting at the doctor’s office or, well, sitting on the subway.
Hard to swallow It’s not hard finding unintended humor in Ricola’s TV commercials. Maybe silliness helps sell cough drops. What surprises me is that Ricola’s ads present two different ways to pronounce the product. Is it REE-cola or Ri-COH-lah? When most companies struggle to gain name recognition, what is the advantage in adding to the confusion? From cough drops to college communications—we can’t forget to keep our messages clear and consistent.
Reverse psychology On the way to a client meeting, I spotted this unusual billboard. I immediately wondered, who is Steven Singer, and why is he so hate-worthy? When I visited the website, I understood. Steven Singer is a jeweler in Philadelphia who won two Philadelphia Advertising Club’s ADDY awards for excellence in advertising. The original customer who declared his hatred for Steven Singer was a man who gave his wife a Steven Singer diamond ring for their 20th wedding anniversary. The couple ended up with a surprise late baby as a result, and while the wife loves the ring, the husband was not too excited about having a baby in the house after their other kids were grown. This campaign is a great example of reverse marketing tactics that work. The love/hate angle is memorable. And isn’t that the goal of advertising?
Logo wizardry Adobe recently sent out an email to promote an Acrobat training program. The stylized “A” logo was transformed into a wizard’s hat to show that users have a bit of magic under their hats. Whoever created the logo probably never thought of using it this way.
This reminds me that a good graphic standards manual will always allow for a bit of serendipity. When GCF creates guidelines to assist in the launch of a new logo or graphic identity, we take care to protect the logo’s integrity and core marketing messages—because you first have to understand the rules. Then you can understand how—and when—to effectively break those rules. Ask yourself how your audience members might react. Will they understand, or will it confuse them? Will viewers or recipients still have a positive image of your brand? In this example, Acrobat’s decision to use their logo in an unconventional way works.
I observed this figure outside an airport restroom on a recent trip. The placement of the “W” makes a humorous—if unintended—anatomical addition. It reminded me that we need to check and double-check every detail of our messages to ensure that our readers only see what we want them to see.
Bragging rights—and wrongs I’ve been flying around the country all my life, and Southwest Airlines used to be the cheap and dirty alternative to the more “respectable” airlines. However, I recently chose Southwest for a flight to Las Vegas because they had the lowest fare and the most convenient travel times. According to Zagat’s 2010 Airline Survey, Southwest ranked number one in Best Consumer On-Time Estimates–Domestic, Website, Check-in Experience, Best Value—Domestic, and Best Luggage Policy—Domestic. It seems they’ve come a long way. But if you visit Southwest’s website, you won’t see an oversized Zagat banner or badge. Their low prices, friendly crew, and satisfying customer experiences speak louder than any boastful link to the rankings.
Required reading for aspiring … designersLooking for tips on perfecting the craft of design? Zinsser’s book for writers is filled with advice on creating clean, interesting, smart writing. But everything he says about the written word also applies to the design process. He tackles the big issues—simplicity, clutter, style, audience, usage, and more. Good writing—like good design—is about communicating effectively. This is a handbook for anyone who seeks advice on creating stronger messages, no matter the medium.
Tag, you’re it! Are you keeping up with the latest trend in social media? I came across this ad for the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in a February issue of Newsweek magazine. In the speech bubble above Kennedy is a QR code that, when captured (via photo or QR tag reader), directs your smart phone to the JFK Twitter feed @Kennedy1960. There, you can follow Kennedy’s 1,000 days in office through tweets about what he did each day. It reminds me of the Little Orphan Annie secret decoder ring from the movie A Christmas Story. Being in the know makes you feel as if you are part of something exclusive, a movement that not everyone knows about or participates in yet. Institutions can take advantage of this inclusive feeling with QR codes that, for example, send college fair visitors to an exclusive admissions video or website. Just make sure that you don’t disappoint visitors with a “drink more Ovaltine” type message.
Surprise, surprise No one was more surprised than Chris Spurlock when the resume he posted to Facebook and Twitter went viral. It has been retweeted 5,300 times to date. Chris gives advice to resume writers here. What he doesn’t mention, however, is the key reason why the resume was such an amazing success: he observed one of the fundamental maxims of communication, which is to take a familiar concept and present it in a fresh way. If your audience doesn’t know you exist, try reaching them in an unexpected way. You may be just as surprised as Chris Spurlock by the results.
An eye on Baltimore I stumbled on the work of Baltimore photographer, Patrick Joust, while browsing images on Flickr. His subjects—whether shot in eerie evening light or the glare of the summer sun—capture the city in fresh, unexpected ways. Everyday scenes are small revelations: a neatly suited man glances down the street as he opens a car door, a girl wraps her arms inside a hula hoop at a street festival, phantom cars leave streaks of light on a deserted street. Photos like these are not casual observations. They are the rewards for perfecting the craft, waiting for the right moment, and loving the subject matter. Joust’s work is a wonderful reminder that you have to love what you do before you can expect anyone else to. You can find more of his work here.
Eye candy We have a color calibration tool that arrived in the most complicated packaging I’ve ever encountered. It was a puzzle trying to figure out how to put the various origami-like pieces back together. Perhaps the creators of the frustrating package were trying to mimic the highly designed Apple product boxes. If so, what the Eye-One Display designers failed to realize is that Apple’s containers are not only pleasing to the eye, but they are also easy to open and close. A “less is more” approach would have made the packaging easier to use, and probably more visually appealing. When you lose the functionality of a piece, whether it be a package or a brochure or a website, all the user remembers about the experience is frustration.
The sincerest form of flattery Speaking of trying to mimic Apple, this year’s Motorola Superbowl ad depicts a young man using the new Xoom tablet to break the monotony of his dystopian work environment. The ad brings to mind Apple’s iconic 1984 commercial introducing the Macintosh personal computer for the first time. The Apple ad shows an athlete running into a sort of brainwashing assembly to smash the overhead screen with a sledgehammer. It was a powerful anti-conformist message that was released in a symbolic year, which George Orwell imagined in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. It seems that Motorola was trying to cash in on the success of a truly revolutionary campaign. But the recent commercial falls short in that it is less interesting and less dramatic. And, since the iPad is already in consumers’ hands, the Motorola ad simply demonstrates that Apple is ahead of them on all counts.
Apple didn’t fall far from the tree No design is created in a void; there’s a predecessor to almost everything. Although we’ve extolled the virtues of Apple and chided those who have tried unsuccessfully to copy the company’s success, Jonathan Ive (Apple’s senior vice president of industrial design) took his inspiration from forerunner Dieter Rams. Rams designed products for Braun in the 50s and 60s and promoted ten principles of good design. His tenets include the idea that good design is innovative and developed in tandem with innovative technology. He also says that design should make a product more useful, a guideline that the Eye-One-On packaging fails to honor. Ive’s implementation of Rams’ thinking shows how to be a true leader instead of a follower: Ive has taken the philosophy of good design to the next level.
Beyond brand recognition One sure sign of a powerful brand is when it becomes part of the vernacular. How many times a day do you say, “Let’s Google it?” When you cut your finger, you don’t reach for an adhesive bandage, you grab a Band-Aid. If you’re wondering how this principle can apply to institutions, take a look at the viewbook above. Our themeline, “Being Gilman,” originated in a conversation between a coach and his athletes. The coach encouraged his players to ask themselves if they were “being Gilman” by embodying the school’s values. Is your brand strong enough to make a similar transition?
Keyword fail I recently had a good laugh at the expense of Google Ads. The article above trashes the practice of inserting loose postcards in magazines, but the Google Ad at the bottom offers fast, full-color postcard printing. The humorous juxtaposition reminds us that although technology—such as keywords and SEO terms—can help drive visitors to our websites and make our jobs easier, the intricate back-end programming doesn’t always work the way we think it will.
No waiting room No one knows how to wait any more. Nearly a third of consumers start abandoning slow websites within one and five seconds, says Gomez, the author of a new study on the subject. As a result of the fast pace of today’s world, we expect prompt, effective results every time. There’s no waiting for someone to check their voicemail and call you back—instead, you text them or email them for an immediate reply. University admissions personnel take heed: if you don’t react immediately to admissions requests and questions, your prospectives might go elsewhere. Lamentable, yes, but true nonetheless.
Viral video Why should you care about viral videos? Because they give us a common language with which to reach audiences. Geico has shown that it knows how to harness the popularity of viral videos. The original viral video (warning: contains language that some might find offensive) highlights the stubborn refusal of a talking bear to accept an HTC Evo in place of an iPhone4. The Geico ad features the same talking bears, and the inside joke made me chuckle. It’s a funny, smart, and memorable commercial for those of us who are familiar with the original.
The pitfalls of testing a new logo Steve Jobs once told BusinessWeek, “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Educational communicators should keep this in mind when preparing to create a new institutional logo or brand. Alumni may cling to the old identity, because it’s what they remember. Newly admitted students might be sensitive to a new brand because they’ve just bought into the old one. And audiences that don’t know your school will turn a test into a popularity contest unrelated to the marketing messages you’re trying to convey. A new brand, backed by solid research and based on clear future goals, may be more widely accepted if you don’t ask for opinions ahead of time.
Reinventing the pinhole camera One of the lessons I learned in my first photography class was how to make a pinhole camera.As you can see in the image above, my camera was hand-made with cardboard and duct tape. I had no idea back then that the pinhole camera could be taken to the unexpected new territory explored in the photos of Abelardo Morell. Morell transforms entire rooms into camera obscura devices using the same idea behind the pinhole camera. He then photographs the images projected on the walls—astonishing reflections of the views outside the room. The boundaries of creativity are always expanding thanks to innovative ways of seeing by artists like Morell.
Photo series below by Abelardo Morell. Click on photos to enlarge, click on large photo to close.
Are you ready for zombies? The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a blog entry explaining how to prepare for an invasion of the undead. The publicity stunt called attention to emergency preparedness no matter what the circumstance—whether a hurricane, an epidemic, or another kind of disaster. The blog, which normally sees 1,000 hits per entry, suddenly underwent a barrage of nearly one million hits (according to an article in the Seattle Times). The CDC’s server-crashing article shows that even the government is playing by social media rules. Humor gets people’s attention, and pop-culture phenomena like zombies can actually help get an important message across by making it memorable and shareable.
Magazines resist the tide of e-readers Sitting on the beach this summer, I did not see any e-readers, such as the Kindle or the Nook, in the hands of my fellow beachcombers. I did, however, see many dog-eared paperback books and rolled-up magazines. People are still holding on to magazines and other print pieces. Paper publications are lightweight and inexpensive, and they can weather a bit of sand or water. My beach observations were supported by some research GCF recently conducted on a client’s magazine. People enjoy getting a print piece in the mail: it arrives directly in the mailbox, is personally addressed, and has all of the portability and durability the e-readers just do not have.
Don’t filter out the truth Online organizer Eli Pariser gave a TED talk in which he cautioned that internet filters, now in use by Facebook, Google, Yahoo! News, and others, are creating individual information bubbles in which each of us is isolated. “The internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see,” he says, “but not necessarily what we need to see.” These filters often keep us from being exposed to challenging or uncomfortable points of view. As marketers, we need to welcome all voices that inform a discussion on Facebook, in our alumni magazines, or in conversations around campus.
Sustaining interest When GCF landed in Milwaukee for our company retreat, we began with a tour of the historic Miller Brewing Company and a few beer samples. At the end of our tour, our guide mentioned the company’s commitment to the environment and invited everyone to take a copy of their sustainability report available at the back of the room. We were impressed. Your campus tour guides could do something similar at the end of a campus tour to emphasize your school’s sustainability commitment. We’ve noticed in looking at university Facebook pages that fans are interested in what colleges are doing to become more environmentally friendly. Have you thought about offering prospective students and their parents a sustainability report of your own?
Daily life, Italian style Giovanna Del Bufalo has a keen eye for everyday life in Catania, a bustling city at the foot of Mt. Etna in Sicily. She took her first photos when she was nine years old and has not stopped clicking the shutter since. The fleeting scenes and momentary gestures that she captures on camera are vivid, honest, and full of life. Her work is a reminder that the small moments in life are the most easily overlooked, yet also the most precious. You can find more of her work here.
Photos series below by Giovanna Del Bufalo. Click on photos to enlarge, click on large photo to close.
Photography classA new series of videos shares advice from famous photographer Steve McCurry on how to take great pictures … advice that campus photographers and other communicators can use as they produce still and video images for print and online use. Steve McCurry is an outstanding photographer who created the iconic National Geographic cover shown above.
Beyond green-washing Coca-Cola is putting their advertising money where their mouth is with a new billboard concept in Manila, Philippines. The billboard, which celebrates a partnership between the soda giant and the World Wide Fund for Nature–Philippines, is covered with tea plants, each of which can absorb an average of 13 pounds of carbon dioxide in a year. What we like about the sign (besides cleaner air) is that Coca-Cola isn’t just saying that they’re green—they’re actually putting the message to work and making it stronger than words. Showing your audiences by doing is always more powerful than simply saying it.
Showing Baltimore some love Baltimore artist Michael Owen just completed his seventh and largest wall mural to date, one of a series of 20 planned paintings around the city. The “Love” message, spelled out letter by letter in hand gestures, contrasts with gritty urban surroundings and serves as encouragement to care—about each other and about the city.
Stand up and deliver Sitting? You might want to stand up for this news. Apparently, sitting all day can significantly shorten your life span and increase your risk for heart disease. What’s a desk worker to do? Enter stand-up desks. This new-fangled furniture allows you to work at your computer while standing. But wait … can’t standing all day result in foot pain, varicose veins, and poor circulation? Perhaps a combination of sitting and standing is key.
QR code idea In our last newsletter, we talked about the importance of visiting campus in person. But there are some visitors who either don’t take the guided tour or can only be on campus when you are not. In preparation for these self-guided guests, many institutions are adding QR codes to signage. For example, a science building might feature a QR code that links to a video tour of the lab’s latest equipment. According to this article, providing more information helps potential consumers get closer to making a decision. Following that logic, QR codes around campus could help your prospects become more certain about their decision to apply.
Grand Prix faux pas During the Grand Prix race held in Baltimore, I saw a banner across from the stands with a large QR code printed on it. Unfortunately, it was too far away for anyone to capture the code with a smart phone. Uh-oh! Poor planning caused that ad campaign to crash and burn. It’s so important to think through how we use the new tech tools. With budgets tighter than a racecar driver’s harness, we need to make sure every dollar is spent on materials that are actually designed to reach our audiences.
Field experience On a recent visit to Chicago, we joined a queue of shoppers waiting to pose for photos in front of the Marshall Field sign on State Street. Sadly, the store is no more. It was bought by Macy’s in 2005 and has been operating as a Macy’s store since September 2006. Field’s may be gone, but it is certainly not forgotten. A survey taken in September 2011 reported that 4 out of 5 Chicagoans still prefer Field’s to Macy’s. There have been protests every year in front of the store, and several customers have crashed shareholders meetings to confront Macy’s CEO. All of this is evidence of the enduring popularity of the Marshall Field brand. Brand loyalty is not reserved for retail businesses—ask any college or university PR director who has been through an institutional name change. The key to making a smooth transition is to move slowly and involve as many people as possible in the rebranding process. Students, alumni, faculty, and community leaders need to be heard. If you move forward without hearing from them, you may be facing some serious post-name-change damage control.
Amazon’s new cutthroat practices Amazon.com has begun using brick-and-mortar stores as a showcase for products it sells online through its Price Check app.Consumers are encouraged to scan the barcode on a product or take a picture of it, then leave the store and buy the item from Amazon—at a 5% discount. The website lets customers have their cake and eat it, too, by giving them a product they can touch and feel, at a discount price that competitors can’t match. Amazon does not seem interested in the idea that this campaign could drive local retailers out of business. Ultimately the consumer is the biggest loser—fewer jobs in the community and fewer choices in the marketplace.
Making the call Last fall, during the annual NACAC conference, high school seniors and college freshmen provided insight into how they prefer to be contacted by colleges during the admissions process. The students explained that they do not always appreciate institutions’ social media efforts. Even though the “millennial generation” has been raised on technology, they prefer personal reach-out methods, like the old-fashioned phone call, over texts and Facebook posts. While it’s beneficial for institutions to maintain a social media presence, when it comes to the nerve-wracking admissions process, hearing a human voice may help ease fears and build prospective students’ confidence in their college choice.
Competing with the big boys Samsung’s new Galaxy SII is taking on the Goliaths (Apple and Android) who currently dominate the smartphone industry. In recent ads like the one shown above, Samsung pokes fun at blindly loyal Apple customers waiting in line to buy the latest iPhone without considering other options. We applaud Samsung’s approach, which calls attention to how their phones are different from Apple’s: a larger screen, 4G speed, thinner profile, longer battery life. HP similarly distinguishes its tablets from iPads in its advertising. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but the most effective form of marketing is to demonstrate how your product or service is different from the competition.
Technology and the disappearance of objects The Chicago Tribune, self-styled as “The World’s Greatest Newspaper,” filed for bankruptcy in 2008, and the fate of its venerable building on Michigan Avenue (shown above) is uncertain. As more of us turn to tablets and e-readers, will papers like the Trib end up in the Museum of Obsolete Objects? Recent data show an overall increase in digital newspaper subscriptions, which will help keep journalist enterprises afloat. But the thin pages and rub-off ink of the newspaper might go the way of the rotary phone, the typewriter, and the pocket calculator.
Would this sign save your life?Shown above is an “instructional” sign I saw on a bus. It’s supposed to show you how to open the window in an emergency, but it is completely confusing. The two diagrams look the same, yet one has a red “x” over it. Why is one right and the other wrong? Let’s not wait for a life or death situation to be sure what we say is what we mean.