Brands with Substance
A lot of people think of brands as gimmicky things – not necessarily bad, but possessing that sizzle we associate with folks in advertising. Examples in the educational arena would be the American University "wonk" campaign or the notorious Drake University D+ campaign. You hire an outsider to give you just the kind of sizzle of which more staid members of the academy are incapable.
Not me. As I do more and more brand work for institutions, my concepts move farther and farther away from that sort of sizzle. My work these days results in subtle framing of issues that you hardly recognize as marketing. Huge amounts of research are poured into strategies that feel natural and organic to the institution – almost boring. No taglines. No sizzle.
It can be done. And, of course, I feel the work I do is more effective. It doesn't draw attention to itself but it advances an institution steadily and surely towards its goal.
Sizzle inevitably links something to the world of product advertising. To commercialism. And it is extremely important that academic institutions do not go down that road. Sizzle is also shallow. And for all my love of marketing, I cannot abandon the idea that academic institutions stand for learning and substance.
Here's the kicker – what audiences want from academic institutions is in fact substance. So brand work with sizzle is not necessarily more effective. I would say it is more transitory like the world that spawned it. One can drive the market with brand work of substance – even when marketing to teens. You can use the tools of Madison Avenue but without the sizzle. Indeed, you need to.