Mixed messages

I noticed this eye-catching display outside of a restaurant in Rome. What a great idea! Too bad the cigarette butt and ashtray were left carelessly in the scene. Suddenly the idea of dinner here is much less appetizing. What a great reminder about the importance of minding the details when we reach out to our audiences. Happy marketing and buon appetito!

The handwriting on the wall…

Brush script calligraphy on book covers is having quite a surge of popularity these days. I’m not sure where the trend started, but I now imagine book cover designers being held captive until they agree to pick up the brush tool and swirl out letterforms. The irony is that all those handwritten covers are trying to project attributes like “unique,” “quirky,” and  “personal.”

Although design conformity can feel delightfully comfortable, you give up the opportunity to carve out your own distinctive brand position. Looking like our competitors will also be a major stumbling block if we hope to attract new prospects.

Communications check, mate

Chess Team Billboard

Did you hear about the recent controversy spurred by a Webster University billboard (shown above) touting their successful chess team? Webster athletes who felt slighted by the tongue-in-cheek statement unleashed a flurry of tweets expressing their dismay. How did a playful ad calling attention to Webster’s academic prowess turn into an insult to the institution’s jocks? Obviously, that wasn’t the intention, but communications can be a tricky game—especially when you add humor to the mix. Sometimes no matter how well-planned your messages are, they can be misunderstood. So what’s a communicator to do? Conduct your research, know your audience and what you’re trying to say, and then make your move.

College taglines that work

excelling

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.