One of the great things about social media is that a conversation can be extended quickly between sites and even continents. Such was my experience with my College Branding post. The first extension of the conversation was by Lou Caravella of Vital Communications, who wrote a blog post citing mine as inspiration but identifying a fascinating resource I hadn’t seen before and providing his own take.
In The Branding of American Colleges, Lou dug out a site, HigherEdTaglines.com, which claims to index 3500 taglines for U.S. colleges and universities. Created by Richard Harrison Bailey/The Agency, the site allows schools to update their tagline if it is out of date or incorrect.
Here are a few of the taglines analyzed by Lou:
Miami University, Oxford, OH: For Love and Honor. Sounds like a rallying cry from Braveheart but definitely purposeful.
Bowling Green State, OH: Changing the world by degrees. A few schools use puns involving “degree” and the less heavy-handed ones seem to work better. South Georgia College, for example, uses A Degree of Difference. These two taglines, particularly Bowling Green’s, say something meaningful independent of the play on words.
University of Alaska, Fairbanks: Latitude with Attitude. This slogan would be great for a tourist destination in Fairbanks or for Fairbanks itself. Not sure how well it does for a university. The school also uses the slogan America’s Arctic University and A 360+ Million-Acre Classroom. They’re really running with this tourist angle. An effort for out-of-state applicants?
Notre Dame: Nowhere but Notre Dame. This tagline works insofar as it suggests Notre Dame is like no place else on earth. To students who are apprehensive about attending a school in a rural setting (i.e. in the middle of nowhere) this slogan might be less helpful.
Montreat College: Christ-Centered Student-Focused Service-Driven. Succinct and strong.
Princeton University: Princeton in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations. From what I can tell, this is one of the few non-religious schools that emphasize “service” in its tagline, just as Harvard is one of the few secular schools that emphasizes “truth” through its motto of, well, Truth (Veritas, actually). By mentioning service to all nations, Princeton also reminds us of its global stature.
Lou makes good points (though I expect the city fathers of South Bend might object to Notre Dame’s location as “rural.”)
I think we have to ask ourselves what the purpose of the tagline is as part of an overall college branding effort. In most cases, the tagline isn’t enough to state the brand premise. Rather, it should be consistent with the school’s branding and have some kind of emotional payload. I like Notre Dame’s “Nowhere but Notre Dame” tagline, as the undergrad experience there is indeed quite unique. The school builds an unusually strong bond with its students (it always ranks in the top few for alumni loyalty), and this is one way to underscore that in a few words. Princeton’s service theme with a global perspective strikes a nice note, even if it may not appeal to all of the avaracious investment banking wannabes who (at least in past years) may have aspired to the school.
One also has to ask whether a tagline differentiates the school from other institutions in any significant way. I rather like the approach used by University of Alaska – Fairbanks in all of their slogans, but particularly, “A 360+ Million-Acre Classroom.” Particularly for out of state students, this sets the school apart from the competition in a very unique way. It may not appeal to all applicants, but as in any branding effort segmenting the market is a key part of the process.
In a white paper titled “Taglines are Dead” Ryan Millbern of RHB points out that many of the slogans adopted by schools mean nothing:
Education. Excellence. Success.
Challenge. Change. Future.
Discover. Culture. Character.
Do these taglines tell you anything at all about the school? Millbern dismisses these examples as, “lifeless husks that do little more than reflect the pool of generispeak in which they float.”
I believe college branding is all about differentiation, and that a good tagline may turn off as many students as it turns on. That’s not a problem if the students (and parents) the tagline resonates with are right for the school – these students are far more likely to apply, be accepted, matriculate, and graduate. Millbern makes a similar point when talking about how NOT to develop a tagline:
Never test your tagline. Let’s face it, your institution isn’t—and shouldn’t be—for everyone, and if your tagline is coherently communicating the character of your institution, it shouldn’t resonate with everyone either. Presenting tagline options to a group of prospective students, parents and alumni is a great way to turn a quirky, compelling tagline into target practice for amateur critics, or worse yet, an exercise in dilution.
That’s good advice. Even most national consumer brands don’t try to appeal to everyone, but rather craft a brand message that is specific enough to resonate with their target segment(s). Just as a college or university can’t be everything to everyone, neither should its tagline.
This discussion of college branding has been interesting so far, and I’d like to hear YOUR thoughts on college taglines. Do you find a particular motto very effective? Spectacularly bad? Unintentionally hilarious? Post a comment with your favorite, or least favorite, college tagline.