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and a Professor of Advertising and Public
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AdSlogans.com -- Wise Words/17
|How To Write
A College Slogan
I'm sure we've all noticed that
colleges and universities these days are writing
slogans for themselves and putting them in their
promotional materials right next to the college
logo, much as Volkswagen does ("Drivers
wanted") or FedEx ("The World On Time")
or almost anyone else who's in business. It
only makes sense. If you're selling something,
get the door open, wedge your foot in, and keep
But we may also have noticed that college slogans
tend to be-how to put this?-kind of lame. They
sound like they were written by the admissions
department or development folks on a Friday
afternoon in a badly ventilated little meeting
All committee, no heart. To
University of Idaho. Tradition. Change.
Oakland University. Think Success. Think
Defiance College. To Know. To Lead.
To Serve. To Understand.
As you see, they're dutiful and sane, but they've
got no oomph, no razzmatazz, no get up and zing.
If we're going to compete with the big boys,
we need to do better. In the spirit of improving
the breed, of getting in the game, I offer some
modest suggestions, a few do's and don'ts, when
creating that winning slogan for your school.
|Do this before you do anything
else. Remember, by creating a slogan, you've entered
that great American amusement park, AdLand. Students
will judge your slogan against the best lines
still echoing in their heads from the day's play:
"Just do it," "Got milk?,"
and the rest. So be warned. Play to win. Hey,
there's a slogan. Be good or be gone. Hey, there's
|To borrow advice from New York
advertising agency Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners,
you don't want your strategy showing. Too many
college slogans hang so far below the hemline
they trip on themselves. The windy laboriousness
of this slogan, for example, gives off the whiff
of too much homework: "Quinnipiac University.
Challenging students to meet the challenges of
the future." I have that headachy, overloaded
feeling already. You too? Slogans solve problems,
and I'd think the big problem here would be pronouncing
the place. Try this: "Quinnipiac. Rhymes
with Win A Free Mac.' And that's just what you'll
do when you apply for early decision. Upon acceptance,
we'll give you your choice of an iMac or iBook
for school. Cool!" See how naturally the
slogan leads to strong selling copy?
|Honest is good,
but too honest is bad.
|A slogan could be seen as a chance
to tell the truth, but when has that ever been
persuasive? Iowa State University's slogan, for
example, is "Becoming the best." Modest
yet ambitious, perhaps even true. But like detergent
boxes that say "New Formula! Cleans Better!"
or frozen meals claiming "More Chicken! Improved
Taste!" it makes you wonder what Iowa State
was doing. They might as well have written, "Now
with more professors" or "Pretty darned
okay, considering everything." I suggest
"Iowa State University. Why not the best?"
It worked for Jimmy Carter, didn't it? (Besides,
since we've forgotten the past and students never
knew it, the line's washday fresh all over again.)
Get in our face a little. Force the issue. Why
NOT Iowa State? Well, why not? Give me one good
reason. I'm waiting.
See the power here of a good offense? And you
could follow it up in the brochure: "Can't
think of a reason? Then give us a season."
So think big. Say more, not less. Ask yourself,
what might be true? Then keep on going.
|Don't let common
sense get in the way
|Here's a slogan I admire: "Sarasota
University. Now in California." Assuming
Sarasota is only in Florida is exactly the kind
of narrow-mindedness that cripples college marketing
today. Properly viewed, Sarasota is wherever we
want it to be, kind of like Superman. With distributed-learning
centers and online learning, a college's brand
is infinitely portable, so it has no excuse for
not being ubiquitous. If I can get Starbucks on
the corner, on campus, on line, at the supermarket,
and out of the cup at my elbow right now, your
brand ought to be at least as available. I should
be able to suck down your school's brew without
so much as a straw. So as your university expands
everywhere, write a slogan that tells us about
it. Possibilities? "University of Maryland.
All Terrapin Station All The Time." "University
of Arkansas. Pigs Fly!" Etc.
with regional appeals
|With One World fast approaching,
state universities need to remember that regionalism
can appear to be provincialism. Mississippi State
University, for example, promises "Leadership
for 21st Century Mississippi." This simply
won't do. It suggests that MSU grads, if not stopped
at the state border for insufficient intellectual
baggage, will at the very least find success unlikely
in New York and points beyond. I suggest reworking
it a bit: "Next Millennial Leadership for
the Known Universe And Then Some." That may
need a little tightening, but you get the idea.
|One time-tested creative principle
is modeling. So borrow liberally from the best
slogans out there. Students will hear the similarity,
but as endless movie remakes and sequels testify,
they actually prefer similarity. Should you want
to capitalize on students' career anxieties, "Got
milk?" could become "Got chops?"
Or if your school favors innovation and design-your-own-degree
programs, you might take Altoids' slogan, "The
curiously strong mints," and turn it into
"The curiously curious college." If
you're West Point or Annapolis or maybe even St.
John's College, with its no-nonsense Great Books
curriculum, you might try "The school with
seriously strong strictures." Again, take
your position in the marketplace, peruse the great
slogans of our time, then just plug and play.
|Keep an eye
out for cross-promotional opportunities.
|Why sell one thing when you can
sell two? Some product slogans are so good already
they'd work perfectly in partnership with your
institution: "Courage for your head: Bell
helmets and Reed College invite you to 'A Weekend
with the Classics." Or "'You've got
questions. We've got answers. Radio Shack and
MIT present 'Why We Talk Funny: The Mind-Mouth
|Hide the sales
pitch without obscuring it.
|Sierra Nevada College can show
us the way here. Their slogan is "A personalized
four-year college experience in a unique alpine
setting." Hmm . . . "unique alpine setting."
Kind of teases the mind, doesn't it? And a quick
check of location confirms the euphemism. What
we've got here is as academic a way as possible
of saying: "Tahoe, baby. Ski your shins off."
They haven't said it, of course, but we hear it
singing in the wires nonetheless.
|So find the key fact for your
institution, its "human truth," as advertisers
often call the real reason people buy a product.
Then slip that into the slogan, elevate it to
near but not total obscurity. Kids are hip to
overkill, so suggest, don't state. Are they shopping
for low cost fun? a stress-free, beer-soaked,
cooling off period from the rigors of too much
high school study hall? You could write "Putz
University. Spend less. Party more," but
you'd be bottom feeding. Remember, elevate: "Putz
University. You can't put a price on happiness.
Or can you?" It sounds good, it feels good,
and best of all, beer and self esteem get to stay
out all night.
Here's one last, and I hope obvious, piece of
advice: Tread lightly on learning for learning's
sake. Relevance and practicality are where it's
at today. Too much academic navel-gazing leads
to no job at all, especially if you do it well
enough, in which case it literally leads nowhere:
The holder of the advanced degree merely gets
up, walks to the front of the classroom, turns
around, and assumes the role of the teacher. Students
know this. And for most of them it's simply not
enough. The best part of getting into college
remains getting out.
Many colleges couldn't agree more: "Columbus
State Community College: Education that WORKS."
"St. John's University: Real Learning For
Real Life." "Hofstra University. We
Good directions, all, but with an undergraduate
year now running between $20,000 and $30,000 at
private schools and $8,000 at public schools,
why not throw the parents a bone? A slogan like
"Keep on toolin" taps at once into the
nostalgia that kids feel for a '60s they never
knew and their parents feel for a '60s they can't
remember. It promises students valuable career
skills while fueling parents' illusions that they're
still hip-all in just three words.
The key here, as in all sloganeering, is simple:
Know who's buying and what's really for sale.
George Felton Used with permission.
-- Wise Words/17