As you were driving back to school or taking a study break with a pop radio station, you may have seen or heard Gustavus advertisements, inviting you to “Make Your Life Count.” The ads are a part of a fall advertisement campaign targeted at prospective students.
The advertisement campaign involves billboards, radio, newspaper, magazine and social media ads in the Mankato, Minneapolis/St. Paul, St. Cloud, Rochester and Duluth/Superior regions of Minnesota.
“We are building image to positively affect recruitment. We’re doing it in a more intentional way than what we have [done] in the past,” Assistant Vice President for Marketing and Communication Stacia Vogel said.
“I often hear that people see billboards for other schools and hear radio ads for other schools. I see this stuff myself. So, for us it was a really positive step that we were able to go to that level and to have the support throughout the institution and from the board to make this important investment,” Vice President for Marketing and Communication Gwen Freed said.
Not all students are this supportive of the campaign, however. “I seriously question how the ads portray Gustavus. It brings images of National American University and the University of Phoenix. The billboards look like the T-shirt stretched over [a sign],” Junior Classics and Political Science Major Nick Prince said.
“There [aren’t any] billboards for St. Olaf but there are for Normandale Community College. I’m just not sure it’s the right message,” Junior Chemistry Major Daniel Burgmeier said.
“Advertising is necessary for every college in some way. Billboards and a tacky slogan are not a good way to get the school’s name out there. I think the focus should be on improving academics and athletics,” Prince said.
Other students feel more positively about the campaign. “I think there is a tendency to become hyper-critical because the ads come from our own institution,” Junior English and Political Science Major Ethan Marxhausen said.
This advertisement campaign is just one part of a broader initiative. “When you talk about advertising or marketing an institution, it has to be absolutely accurate. Even though I have been here a short period of time, I have been impressed with it,” Vice President for Enrollment Management Tom Crady said.
“We found a lot of alignment across the various audiences about key points of distinction and elements of the ethos here that make it a good fit for people. With those insights we were able to launch the Make Your Life Count positioning. It’s out of the implementation of that and the desire to communicate that we thought it was the time to do this advertisement campaign,” Freed said.
“The market is just saturated with online schools, and how do you distinguish yourself as being different?…[F]rom my point of view, it is important to communicate [these differences] to to the general public so [we] attract the best students we can,” Crady said.
“One of the goals with advertising is brand impression. The research out there seems to indicate that the more you see something the more positively you feel toward it, even if you don’t know much about it yet. It’s just a really good idea to get our name out there,” Freed said.
Many students do not feel the “Make Your Life Count” brand is right for Gustavus.“It’s the worst slogan ever,” Burgmeier said.
“It kind of gives the impression that if you go somewhere else your life won’t count,” First-year Student Marian Lund said.
“I think that we didn’t have much of a say in what the slogan says [about] us,” Senior Sociology Major Molly Cook said.
“After multiple conversations with people who are involved, I have decided that ‘Make Your Life Count’ does not accurately portray Gustavus. I think it’s distasteful to think that money that could be spent more directly on students is being spent on something that we think is giving us a bad name,” Prince said.
According to Fairway Outdoor’s website, an outdoor billboard similar to those Gustavus uses in the Mankato market cost between $1,800 and $6,750 per month, depending on the location.
“This campaign was targeted based on a relatively inexpensive budget. The billboards aren’t in the most [ideal] locations that cost the most. But they are in populated areas where they are still being seen by people,” Vogel said.
“It is very difficult to cut through all of the noise, and it is very costly. We’re very pleased with the scope and magnitude of this effort,” Freed said.
“The outdoor advertising piece has been very interesting and rewarding so far. It’s really a trend out there in the advertising world that ads outdoors have a lot more impact than they once did. We were pleased with the way they did these [advertisements] because a lot of research indicates that a lot of photographs and a lot of text can make it harder for people to immediately connect with an outdoor billboard,” Freed said.
While there is a cost to advertising, other associated costs are present as well. According to tax documents, Gustavus spent $153,565 with Simpson Scarborough LLC in fiscal year 2008, a partner who completed a market research study that was the basis for the new marketing positioning.
“You really need to do very high quality research to understand where you fit in the larger marketplace. We feel these are dollars exceedingly well spent,” Freed said.
“For years we have been doing things with that research or with [a] very small [amount of] research. This gives us factual information from our constituents that says, ‘Here’s who Gustavus is.’ Without that, we couldn’t have done what we did today,” Vogel said.
“In marketing terms, you hear that an institution, even a nonprofit like Gustavus should spend at least 10 percent of its budget on marketing,” Vogel said.
Marketing and Communication indicated that it is listening to feedback. In August, a set of sample ads was put up on the Gustavus website as a part of a news release about the campaign. Within a few days, some of the sample print ads had been modified. The phrase “Be a decent human being” was removed from the advertisements. A photo was also changed in one of the ads.
“We received some feedback and we made a change. If we can make the appropriate modifications, why not,” Freed said.
“I have personally made an effort to be attentive and responsive to any people who have negative impressions. A lot of the time if someone has something they don’t like, we can learn something from asking them to tell us more,” Freed said.
“Generally speaking, we feel very positively. We really appreciate the input and support of our colleagues. We just want to drive great results for the institution,” Freed said.