Original Advertising Approach Helps USF Gain Citywide Recognition and Preach Academic Excellence
Since the campaign started nearly two years ago, some of the advertisements have been considered offensive. The headlines “Become Wildly Successful Without Becoming A Jerk No One Likes” and “Academic Standards Higher Than Haight-Ashbury in the 60’s” have been criticized by members both inside and out of the USF community, for insinuating and referencing ideals not traditionally associated with academia.
It seems, however, that that is the point.
The advertisements, as part of an ongoing campaign effort to increase USF’s exposure in San Francisco, had to stand out. In order to stand out, the creative team aimed to make headlines that would cause a stir.
“We had to have personality, and that campaign has a personality,” said Gregory Pabst, the program director of advertising at USF. “It’s a little edgy, and a lot of it is really funny, but it’s also truthful, and that’s what makes it work.”
Headlines such as “There is No Moral Compass App” and “Run a Multinational Corporation and Still go to Heaven” represent a distinct departure from other college advertisements, but David Macmillan, USF’s vice president for communications and marketing, sees this as essential to the makings of a successful campaign.
“Institutions like us tend to be conservative in marketing, and not want to take chances, not want to take risks, not want to offend anybody,” Macmillan said. “You’re not going to get anybody’s attention that way. [The advertising agency’s] proposal was to make the headlines the ads. So no pictures of smiling students in their caps and gowns, and all that you typically see from universities.”
The first flight of the Higher Standard Campaign started in April 2012 in order to establish USF’s identity and distinguish the school from other local universities, like UCSF and SFSU.
“There was widespread concern at the university, that even in our own city, people didn’t know we were here, and didn’t know what a strong university we have here,” Macmillan said.
To address this issue, a committee chaired by Macmillan proposed to USF president, the Reverend Stephen A. Privett, plans to develop a new logo and tagline for the university.
In August 2011, “Change the World From Here” replaced “Educating Hearts and Minds to Change the World,” and the Office of Communications and Marketing was established. Soon after, the committee partnered with Presidio-based advertising company Hub Strategy to create the controversial headlines.
Another key aspect of the campaign is to bring focus to USF’s academic excellence and strong morals, inspiring such headlines as ‘Academic Standards Higher Than Haight-Ashbury in the 60’s,’ according to Macmillan.
Despite controversy over the headlines even amongst students, the Higher Standard Campaign has included USF students in the creation and discussion of the advertisements throughout the campaign. In spring 2012, a competition was held among advertising majors to see who could think of the best advertisement for the school. Senior Aaron Hong, who was a sophomore at the time, received second place in the challenge with a headline that read: “All the Ideals of Change and Passion Minus the Tie-Dye and Go-Go Boots.”
Students have had sufficient time to develop opinions about the advertisements since they hit the streets in 2012.
“I know it’s a pretty big [campaign], because ever since I started [going to USF], they’re the only ads I’ve been seeing around the city,” Hong said. “So obviously I think it’s a pretty good push.”
After noticing the advertisements on buses and around campus, junior nursing major Lized Purificacion reacted to their bold, in-your-face nature. “It’s like we’re on top,” Purificacion said. “Like ‘Hey, it’s us. It’s USF. Whoa.’ Kind of like…not the word arrogant, but close to that.”
For now, the city streets are decorated with newer headlines such as “Expanding Minds (Legally) Since 1855” and “Integrity. Responsibility. Money. (Pick Three)” that are slowly replacing the headlines from the older flights. As the campaign has grown, the ads have continued to draw from the culture of the Haight, stereotypes about the perks of a college education, and aspects of the Jesuit tradition in order to create catchy, yet thematically relevant slogans.
Currently, Macmillan and his team are conducting a survey to assess people’s reactions to the advertisements by showing pictures of the headlines and asking for opinions. As far as the future of the advertisements, the results of the survey will play a role in dictating the creative crew’s decisions going forward, and according to Macmillan, a proposal is in the works that will ask the university to fund the campaign’s third year.