Wild West of Higher Ed Branding: Wyoming Cowboys


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When maverick university marketers create a brilliant brand, but campus stakeholders feel uncomfortable about potential sexist or racist implications, what do you do?

In the “Wild West” of higher ed branding, the University of Wyoming charged ahead with its new slogan, “The World Needs More Cowboys” – and noted higher ed brand strategist Ken Steele thinks they were right to do so.

The $1.5 million campaign, launched in July 2018, was based on months of solid research that showed the word “cowboy” offered a real opportunity to differentiate uWyo from its competitors. As president Laurie Nichols emphasizes, the brand campaign “redefines what it means to be a cowboy in this day and age” by juxtaposing the word, with its white male settler connotations, with images of diverse students, faculty, researchers and alumni.

Objections from faculty and others are an “undeserved rough ride”. This campaign is bold, memorable, and aspirational. The marketers knew they were “bucking” political correctness, since they built in plenty of explanation in the original brand video.

For the full University of Wyoming brand video, “The World Needs More Cowboys,” see https://youtu.be/EbJXn_he_sg

Whenever an institution tries to distill its identity into a single word, it runs the risk of upsetting campus stakeholders who see it as a gross oversimplification. But in recent years, there have been more and more of these “one-word wonders” in higher ed branding! Next week, Ten with Ken will examine 10 recent examples in a full-length episode.

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