Advertising Campaigns: Bowling Green State University - Bronze Medal

Category 39A: Advertising Campaigns
Bowling Green State University, Changing the World by Degrees: Explore. Inspire. Achieve.

Contact: Kimberly McBroom, Associate vice president, Office of Marketing and Communication, 504 Administration Bldg., Bowling Green, OH 43403, Phone: (419) 372-2716, e-mail:

Overview: The university wished to leverage its existing brand equity while more closely focusing its brand promise. The evolved brand promise needed to position BGSU as the epitome of academic relevance, innovation, value and excellence. BGSU wanted to differentiate itself via its emphasis on critical and creative thinking, self-expression, personal growth and real world impact, and service. The institution-wide branding program included branding workshops with key internal influencers throughout the university, quantitative and qualitative research, compression planning and the development of a strategic marketing plan, and multi-media public relations and advertising implementation that leveraged a seamless integration with an outside marketing and advertising firm (Communica, Toledo, Ohio) and the BGSU internal marketing, communications team.

Program Objectives: The goals of the university-wide branding initiative included:

  • Introducing a more closely focused branding campaign
  • Driving enrollment
  • Attracting a higher caliber of student
  • Defining the value of a university education
  • Demonstrating the unique benefits of an education at BGSU
  • Positioning BGSU as an academically superior institution
  • Articulating the university's emphasis on personal growth, real world relevance and deeper, more complex understanding as a mandate of higher education.

Research, planning and positioning criteria: BGSU embarked on a strategic process that can be divided into three phases:

Research - Internal Discovery: The university president initiated a university-wide team to identify the unique and ‘ownable’ features of BGSU in order to build a foundation for our next step in positioning the University

Research - External Discovery: Communica, an independent marketing and communications firm, was hired to conduct a series of market research studies to gain insight and test assumptions to help inform decision-making in evolution of the university's brand promise. Quantitative research was conducted with multiple target audiences. The objectives for the research were to measure awareness and familiarity, uncover existing brand perceptions, preference, key decision-drivers or motivators, and a preferred communication channel for delivery of the message. The target audiences for the research included:

  • Prospective students and their parents
  • Existing students and their parents with a sub-group of first year students and their parents
  • Alumni
  • Business and government leaders
  • Media (Local, Regional, National)
  • Presidents, deans and provosts at other universities across the country
  • Academic peers at other universities across the country
  • Alumni Board and Board of Trustees

Multiple research methodologies were employed including in-person interviews, in-depth phone interviews, and Web-based online surveys. In total there were nearly 6,400 completed surveys with sufficient participation from each target audience to have a 95 percent confidence level +/- 5 percent.

Key Insights:

  • Overall awareness of the university is relatively high among all target audiences in comparison to other universities in the region.
  • While awareness is high, most audience members had a limited knowledge of BGSU core strengths.
  • The core elements of the BGSU Success Initiative, such as leadership, critical thinking, problem solving, self-confidence and others were considered highly important among all audiences.
  • With potential students and their parents, update-to-date technology, safety, academic quality in their field of study, faculty quality and tuition cost were identified as key decision drivers or motivators in the selection of a school, while several other factors were also identified as highly important, including:
    • Courses include a combination of classroom lecture and field exposure to actual application
    • Small class sizes
    • A university that helps students evaluate, challenge, and explore their own values
    • A college or university that puts emphasis on tolerance and respect for other persons, cultures, and ideas

The university's Web site was identified as a top source of information among most target audiences; personal letters, journal articles and face-to-face visits were also identified as a preferred communication channel by several audiences.

Findings helped shape our key messages, media and distribution channels and brand positioning planning. Before moving into the implementation stage of our program we additionally conducted focus group testing of language and messaging with multiple groups of students and parents. We then used focus group findings in the development of our messaging.

Planning: The branding initiative was geared toward creating a sense of ownership and buy-in throughout the university. We worked closely with the university president and council, board of deans, administrative vice presidents and marketing communications and media departments to position BGSU as a premiere learning community.

Planning included development of:

  • A university strategic plan
  • Strategy for translating plan into messaging and marketing via branding initiative
  • Research design, deadlines and executive report of findings
  • Marketing and media parameters and budgets
  • Internal brand workshops and presentations of recommendations to key influencers
  • Implementation timeline
  • Strategy for rollout
  • Execution of elements and creative
  • Focus group testing of elements
  • Development of parameters for determining results
  • Execution of elements

Brand Positioning Criteria: BGSU worked with its outside agency partner (Communica, Toledo, Ohio) to conduct two-part brand strategy workshops that included the following criteria for successful brand positioning.

The brand's position in the marketplace and in the minds of its constituents must be:

  • Focused - Discipline to choose single value platform
  • Unique - Identify key point of differentiation
  • Ownable - A brand promise you and you alone can keep
  • Relevant - Of real benefit to the audience, meaningful to your constituents
  • Consistent - Speaking with a single voice throughout each and every brand encounter
  • Integrated - Adhere to key brand messages, graphic identity and brand promise throughout every communication

Brand Positioning Strategy and Rationale: Our brand position was based on our five-year strategic plan. That plan was shaped by our vision of education that encourages inquiry, engagement and achievement. In our marketing effort, based on focus-group findings we discovered that the specific language was problematic and so changed to language that was more accessible and meaningful for target audiences. The inquiry, engagement and achievement initiative became the call-to-action positioning line: Explore. Inspire. Achieve.

“Explore. Inspire. Achieve” distills the essential tenets of BGSU's approach to education: Explore - To continue to question, challenge, research and stay curious across a lifetime. Inspire - To develop confidence and creativity in expressing ideas, and the ability to lead, engage and contribute. Achieve - To translate ideas into action and develop a sense of responsibility and service as a global citizen.

We next developed a campaign-line and creative strategy using multimedia advertising to introduce the new brand positioning to our key audiences: Changing the world by degrees.

Our new campaign line “Changing the world by degrees” spoke directly to the ability of the well-educated individual to make a real difference in the world. It emphasized the empowering nature of education and targets the idealism inherent in our younger demographic. It's not career training, it's a foundation for critical thinking, creativity and the ability to solve complex problems and continue to learn and grow across a lifetime.

Our icon “BGSYOU” is a visual mark that telegraphically communicates the power of combining education with the individual's talent, insight, and unique gifts.

Implementation and marketing of the program: In developing the integrated multimedia campaign, we needed to walk the line between a high energy, visually dynamic creative targeting the younger demographic, and an uplifting, complex and substantive message that would resonate with academic achievers, parents and beyond. We further needed to develop a creative strategy that was broad enough to translate across diverse media including: collateral, Web site, and television. And we needed to maintain absolute consistency and integration.

The multimedia brand launch included:

  • Collateral campaign (Enrollment Book, Transfer brochure, Multi-Cultural Brochure, Mini-Guide, Firelands Campus Viewbook and Event Promotions)
  • Television campaign (5 spots)
  • Web site design
  • Outdoor campaign
  • Online flash show
  • Print Ads
  • Online banner ads
  • TV billboards
  • Radio

Budget: $320,000

Results: The campaign has been unanimously embraced and applauded by the university's internal audience, in part because they had ownership in creating the essential tenets. The advertisements and message points became the focus of the university president's State of the University Address, in which he remarked on alumni, friends and supporters' belief that BGSU is indeed changing the world by degrees. He noted the theme connotes both individuals' ability to have an impact and BGSU's ability to effect change through degree programs. The campaign's research findings, creative solutions and tactics for distribution have been presented to audiences across campus. Colleges and departments are incorporating and reinforcing the primary tenets of the brand. Faculty have used the theme as well, as when the director of BGSU's service-learning office noted it “fit perfectly” with the office's philosophy. We have experienced a renewed sense of purpose by campus constituents.

The university continues on track for another record year of enrollment. Main campus and Firelands campus show historic numbers of first year students. BGSU has its highest-ever number of new students with an ACT score of at least 30. Ethnic diversity sets a record with 19 percent of student population. BGSU is also on track for its largest out-of-state enrollment. Campus visits are very strong as well. BGSU attracted more than 600 visitors to each of the Fall Preview Days and hosted more than 6,000 visitors at the Presidents' Day Open House event. Online activity is up more than 10 percent since the campaign began. In addition, the university has benefited from accelerated private giving during this time.