10 Recent One-Word Wonders in Higher Ed Branding


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Ken Steele returns to the Brand Chemistry™ lab to round up 10 recent examples of colleges and universities that have focused their brands on a single word. It can be a real challenge to get campus-wide consensus, but there’s a growing trend to quite literally “own a word” in the higher ed marketplace.

1) UC System – “Public”

The University of California system launched an online and OOH campaign in 2014 playing with the word “public” to emphasize the value of their research to Californians, and the world.

2) American U – “Wonk”

There are plenty of “policy wonks” in Washington DC, but in 2010 AU extended the idea to all sorts of disciplines, asking “What kind of wonk are you?” (See an extended 10K segment at https://youtu.be/IQJ27h9CtFg).

3) NSCC – “Strive”

Nova Scotia Community College launched a powerful, aspirational, and emotional campaign in 2016 emphasizing the challenges their students overcome, and their hopes for the future. https://youtu.be/P3ZkHOyqi_I).

4) uLethbridge – “Shine”

Southern Alberta gets tons of sunshine, so the University of Lethbridge’s shield highlights the sun and their motto “Fiat Lux” the illumination provided by education. And their latest campaign, launched in 2015, spotlights their talented students, faculty and alumni, who “shine.” https://youtu.be/lN4ojnM4WrE

5) uWindsor – “Promise”

Many branding agencies will tell you that you need to articulate a brand promise, but Ontario’s University of Windsor made “Promise” their brand promise! https://youtu.be/Zi8oumjX-dM

6) Keyano – “Power”

Keyano College, in Fort McMurray Alberta, serves the labour needs of the Athabasca Oil Sands, and plays a critical role in the global energy sector. So they built a catchy, bold position using superhero capes and the slogan, “You’ve got the power!”

7) BCIT – “Complex”

Likewise, the British Columbia Institute of Technology wanted to empower its students and prospective students by preparing them for a complex world. https://youtu.be/nCmrk3CCArE

8) Brescia – “Bold”

Brescia University College is a Catholic, women-only institution affiliated with Western University, in London Ontario. In 2009 they launched a new brand to highlight a key benefit of a single-gender learning environment: more confident, outspoken students. So they focused on the word “Bold.” https://youtu.be/TDqmcIgOMks

9) Maryville – “Brave”

Almost a decade later, another Catholic (and originally women’s) college in Missouri launched a new online brand based on a very similar word: “Brave.” https://mistress.agency/work/maryville-university-lets-be-brave-together-ad-campaign/

(See an extended 10K segment discussing “The Bold and the Brave” at https://youtu.be/UKHQjuUPKG0)

10) uWyoming – “Cowboys”

The most recent, and controversial, of these “One-Word Wonders” came from the University of Wyoming – an institution steeped in generations of cowboy symbolism. Their new slogan, “The World Needs More Cowboys,” launched in August 2018 and sparked some immediate criticism for potentially reinforcing sexist and racist stereotypes. But the whole point of the campaign was to redefine the word cowboy and emphasize the diversity of “Cowboys” at uWyo. https://youtu.be/EbJXn_he_sg

(See an extended 10K segment on the Wyoming Cowboys brand at https://youtu.be/W6JweEAeX7s)

We’ve been looking at marketing slogans and brand campaigns, but to truly deliver on your brand promise, the institution must “live the brand”, incorporating it into strategic planning, budgeting, hiring and more. Next time, we’re going to visit a campus that has done just that, literally “moving mountains” to embody its brand!

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