College taglines that work


We’ve all seen them—taglines that are stale, comical, or simply forgettable. I’ve talked to some college communicators who see taglines as a distraction and refuse to use them at all. Writing a great tagline is one of the toughest challenges we can tackle. Abraham Lincoln once wrote: “ I’m sorry I wrote such a long letter. I did not have time to write a shorter one.” Brevity is one of the challenges of tagline writing. Imagination, simplicity, and authenticity are others.

“Think different.” “It’s the real thing.” “Just do it.” “Pizza! Pizza!” Corporations have long used imaginative taglines to reinforce their brands. A well-written tagline can cut right to the essence of a company and create a lasting message of quality or benefit to the consumer. Like a haiku poem that derives its power from a few carefully chosen words, the tagline can distill a complex admissions program or capital campaign down to a strikingly powerful message.

Well-written taglines work. Poorly written taglines don’t. Unfortunately, clichés and corniness dominate the college tagline scene. Here are suggestions that will help you keep it fresh and make the most of your tagline opportunity.

  1. Make it personal. Write a tagline that will make sense only for your institution. We created the tagline, “Success begins with CCSU” and a logotype, CCSUCCESS, for Central Connecticut State University. The tagline transforms a commonplace word into a personal and powerful message for the university.
  2. Use short, punchy words. Choose a crisp Anglo-Saxon word over a longer, loftier Latinate word. Use ask instead of inquire; start instead of commence; build instead of construct; pick instead of select.
  3. Give yourself time to do it right. Great taglines are the product of thorough understanding. Don’t create unrealistic deadlines that force a poorly conceived solution.
  4. Reinforce your institution’s mission. Consistent messaging is vital in all we do as communicators, and taglines are no exception. If you find the tagline and your mission in conflict, it’s time to change one or the other.
  5. Highlight a key benefit or attribute. “Think is for girls” is the tagline Sweetbriar College displayed in hot pink letters to appeal to Gen-Y students who might not have considered enrolling in a women’s college. The campaign was a hit and first-year enrollment increased by 40%.
  6. Play with words. “The power of X” makes good use of the serendipitous letter X in Xavier University’s name to create a memorable tagline.

Video tips and tricks


Most colleges recognize the value of admissions videos and make a point to include them on their websites. The downside is that many of these videos are poorly conceived and produced so watching them is a chore.

I talked with Bill Denison, an amazingly talented educational photographer, about making great video. With his input, I’ve put together a list of things to do to make your videos stand out—in a good way.

1. Know what you want to accomplish. Don’t just shoot and pray that something will emerge. Outline your goals. Without a clear idea of what you want to say, you could wind up with a lot of footage that never gets to the point.

2. Keep it flexible. You need an idea about where you’re going, but you also need to be flexible enough to rethink it as the project proceeds.

3. It’s about story, not technology. A good story can deliver a powerful message. Be sure you are focused on telling that story, not showing off that you have the latest zoom camera with sliders and fill lights.

4. Don’t be literal. Use video to express the story rather than merely record action. Interpret rather than document. This is where shooting style comes in. A small detail can sometimes be more powerful than showing the entire scene. Different angles can add dramatic interest. For example, showing feet descending a set of steps can be more interesting than shooting the full staircase.

5. Shoot a variety of angles. Include a variety of low and high angles, long shots, medium shots, close-ups, etc. Don’t move to the next scene until you are sure you’ve covered the subject with multiple angles and ranges. It’s always better to shoot too much than not enough.

6. Know how to roll. Documentary videos are composed of A-roll and B-roll. A-roll is the footage of the interview. It can be shot in the studio or on location, and the focus is the person speaking to the camera. B-roll is everything else—like the video that plays during an audio voice over.

7. Know when to shoot B-roll. Shoot B-roll after the interview. Why? The conversation may inspire ideas on how to shoot the person in action.

8. This is video…move! Get your subjects walking, running, or going in or out of a room. If you’re in a lab, follow the student as she gets up from the table and walks to the specimen case. Record the organic sounds around you. This adds a sense of realism to the action on camera.

9. To make great video you need to watch video. If you want to learn to draw, you study the old masters. The same is true for video. Take the time to critically assess the work of exemplary videographers.

Here are a few links to get you started:

Great concept.

Narrated by Werner Herzog, this video uses humor to tell an important story.

A simple idea that gives a glimpse into the thinking of a number of people.

From Bill Denison’s portfolio, photographic stills with voiceovers create a dynamic experience.