Eduvation Blog

Bold New Brands of 2015

Last week, Ken shared some classic cautionary tales of higher ed brand misfires, and we looked at some particularly cautious new brands from Canadian colleges and universities, perhaps in response. This week, we look at the flipside: provocative brands and campaigns that deliberately court controversy.

Aggressive Competition:

We start with some examples of pretty aggressive “poaching” campaigns for student recruitment in other institutions’ backyards:

York University led the way with their “question every angle” campaign, and notably a subway station domination strategy at the doorstep of the University of Toronto.

Memorial University of Newfoundland has bought up bus shelters along routes to major undergraduate university campuses across Canada, to promote their Grad Studies “on the edge.”

The University of Saskatchewan has advertised on Calgary transit, dissing Edmonton as a study destination.

And St Mary’s University has bought billboards across the street from Cape Breton University, encouraging students to go to Halifax for the right education.

Going Negative:

Even more controversial campaigns in recent years have mocked major competitors:

Lakehead University took on Yale and then-president George Bush in their 2006 recruitment campaign, “Yale Shmale.”

Algoma University mocked the fictional “Colossal U” in their 2008 recruitment campaign. But spending your marketing budget establishing name recognition for an imaginary competitor seems too clever by half.

Sex Sells:

Much simpler are the higher ed campaigns that appeal directly to the teenage libido:

Education New Zealand urged Asian students to “Get further away from your parents” in a short-lived 2007 campaign with pretty racy ads.

Algoma University’s 2009 campaign, “Plan your escape,” likewise encouraged Toronto students to get 681 kms away from their parents.

Ohio’s Oberlin College got explicit with their 2011 microsite, “WhyTheF*”, and got 1.5 million pageviews in their first few months as a reward.

In 2015, though, the Université de Moncton outclassed them all with a sexy ad that garnered $300,000 in media headlines, and moreover boosted out-of-province student enrolment by 66%!

Just Plain Bold:

But a brand campaign can be bold without being controversial, or explicit.  In 2015, Calgary’s Bow Valley College launched a great new slogan, “Success Rises,” and a social justice fundraiser to boot, “1,000 Women Rising.”  It’s memorable, emotional, and nicely done.

But of course, good ideas attract imitators quickly, and BVC’s “Rise” was picked up less than a year later by the massive University of Phoenix, which has just launched its new brand platform, “We Rise.”

A Bold Athletic Brand:

Finally in this episode, Ken shares a gritty, powerful new brand and campaign for Stingers Athletics at Montreal’s Concordia University.  You don’t want to miss it, just #ICYMI!


Next week, we’ll wrap up our review of 2015 with a look back at some new names and nicknames in Canadian higher ed branding.

Don’t forget that Ken Steele is available to conduct higher ed brand audits, competitive audits, and campus Brand Chemistry™ workshops and presentations.  Check out for more information.


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