Thursday, September 2nd, 2010
19

Drake University's New Ad Campaign: It's A Big D+

DRAKE!The marketing team that dreamed up Drake University's latest campaign, "The D+ Advantage," got so carried away by an apparent allusion to positively charged molecules that it thought it could either ignore or, alternately, capitalize on one obvious fact: the logo is the grade for pathetically under-average schoolwork, a D-plus.

Or, as Drake envisions it, "your Potential + our Opportunities."

It's a chemistry equation, see… except with people and a horribly misguided institution of higher learning. (Never mind that a positively charged ion attracts negativity-but hey, I barely passed Rocks For Jocks in college, so I'll leave the scientific interpretation to others.)

Let Drake, who graduated such stuff as esteemed poet Mark Doty and gay journalist Rex Wockner and that creepy guy from Lost, break it down for us: "When we talk about D+, that's what we mean. Every moment at Drake is one that has the power to educate, to transform, to open minds and to unleash potential-to introduce who you are, to who you hope to become."

George Carpenter, founder of Drake University, laid out this idea during a commencement speech in 1884, when he declared:

Institutions of learning must come under this rule: By their fruits ye shall know them. A practical education is that which gives the mind the most power and adaptability. The credentials that your young and hopeful alma mater will soon confer upon each of you can only give you an introduction to the world of letters and of actual life. They can serve you no further. In whatever of the varied vocations of life you may engage, as well as in general society, you must work out your own destiny.

Poetic, no? But a real bummer to try to brand. In this age, we need a quick visual, one that really encapsulates a core idea in the 1.9 seconds a potential student takes before clicking on to another page in the fruitless quest to find information of value on a university website (the webcomic xkcd did a neat Venn diagram on this phenomenon).

To be completely inclusive by Wikipedia's standards, "D+" doesn't just have an entry as a terrible grade. It's also listed as an indie rock band from Anacortes, WA, with "droll vocals and witty wordplay, and a minimalist, charmingly ramshackle sound." Pitchfork last reviewed the band in 2003 with a 4.8 rating.

That's the company you're keeping, Drake marketers. Except, unlike D+ the band and D+ the grade, you're not even passing. Maybe try for a "charmingly ramshackle sound" next time, eh?

In an internal email sent to faculty and staff on Tuesday morning (and published here by a renegade recipient), Drake University defended the The Drake Advantage campaign as "intentionally edgy." In a confusing leap of logic, it praised the logo as a standalone eye-catcher but then backpedals and says "The D+ was not designed to stand alone or represent a grade. it was designed to be paired with prose."

The "D+" graphic scored well in a survey of 921 high school students, according to the authors, Tom Delahunt, vice president of Admission and Financial Aid, and Debra Lukehart, executive director of Marketing and Communications.

Taking a strangely condescending tone, the letter goes on to explain, "Our experience in the survey and in the field suggests that the kind of students whom we want to attract to Drake easily understand and appreciate the irony of the D+, and that it is having the intended effect of encouraging students to find out more about what makes Drake so special."

Hear that? If you don't easily appreciate the irony, Drake doesn't even want you, you dense plebe!



Katjusa Cisar is a freelance writer living in Atlanta.

19 Comments / Post A Comment

KarenUhOh (#19)

With apologies to esteemed alumni pining for the banks of the Des Moines River, this come-on will be a hopeful sign to many of its potential students.

Matt (#26)

They shoulda just repurposed that Sprite commercial.

dado (#102)

I'm going to commandeer my Gerald Ford WIN button to Whip Irony Now.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

Can't wait to see an insert of this in the next round of junk-mail ads from Hy-Vee, a wellspring of ineptitude in its own right.

mishaps (#5,779)

Ah, the D+. The grade that says "you suck — plus!"

keisertroll (#1,117)

You have to admit, though. They make a great snack cake.

Josh Carrollhach (#7,240)

You need to remember that Drake's target audience is comprised of sixteen-year-old high school kids in the Midwest, not freelance writers in Atlanta. If you get a kid to open a viewbook then it counts as a win. Ad campaigns are judged on their memorability, not their popularity.

keisertroll (#1,117)

If that was the case why didn't they just hire Drake?

Busy with pirates. Also dead.

Josh Carrollhach (#7,240)

Let's remember that the target market is not a mediocre freelance writer living in Atlanta, it's a sixteen-year-old Iowan or Illinois high school kid. There's no such thing as bad publicity, either.

Moff (#28)

@Josh: Ah, yes, teenagers: the most forgiving and least media-savvy people out there.

Moff (#28)

""The D+ was not designed to stand alone or represent a grade. it was designed to be paired with prose."

A good logo should always require a lot of explicit extrapolation. That's Branding 101.

cElroy (#7,269)

It's real easy (and obvious) to take low-standards pot-shots at a campaign that leads with "D+" (being recognizable as a low grade IS what sets up the irony, regardless of what spokespeople are saying), but do intelligent people really stumble on that when paired with a university with a well-known academic reputation-which Drake clearly must have?

I'm sure Drake is absolutely loving all the attention this campaign is drawing (and I suspect success it's having). Just because the market is higher education, doesn't mean the marketing has to be boring.

This campaign is garnering all kinds of NATIONAL attention (and polarized opinions), when at it's core, it's all about superior academics. Kudos to Drake, above all, for having the strength to stand out. And as for all the uneducated comments, keep them coming-it only makes the campaign stronger.

tylermarciniak (#7,275)

As a communications professional (and proud 2005 graduate of Drake), I deal every day with breaking through the chatter and noise that has become the reality of our lives. People (including perspective students and alumni of a University) are constantly bombarded with messages from myriad sources and delivering a message that sticks takes some real creativity, which is just what Drake has done here.

While the planners of the D+ campaign may have initially been focused on sharing the story of how "Every moment at Drake is one that has the power to educate, to transform, to open minds and to unleash potential-to introduce who you are, to who you hope to become," what an unexpected coup has occurred! Drake students (and thus, ideal perspective students) are curious, inquisitive people and kudos to the University for having faith in their ability to investigate a little bit and realize the deeper meaning. The tremendous publicity gained is icing on the cake.

Because of the D+ campaign, I believe this is one of the few times that the Drake University brand has been shared with the creative professionals of AdWeek despite the University's successful marketing, advertising, and graphic design programs that place graduates in top ad shops and corporate creative positions around the world each year. So thanks, AdWeek, for the free PR.

Same goes for WashingtonPost.com. I believe this to be one of the few times Drake University has been talked about on WashingtonPost.com (except perhaps in reference to the Drake Relays). This despite the University sending dozens of undergraduates to beltway internships each year and the dozens of graduates that have built successful careers in the nation's capital. Thanks, WashingtonPost.com, for helping to share our brand with a national audience.

If criticism of the D+ campaign helps various news outlets attract readers, then please continue that criticism, because attracting readers means more exposure to the Drake University brand. Furthermore, I'm confident that the kind of students attracted to Drake will easily understand and appreciate the irony of the D+ campaign and how it ties to the real Drake experience.

apollo (#2,805)

"I believe this to be one of the few times Drake University has been talked about on WashingtonPost.com (except perhaps in reference to the Drake Relays). This despite the University sending dozens of undergraduates to beltway internships each year and the dozens of graduates that have built successful careers in the nation's capital. Thanks, WashingtonPost.com, for helping to share our brand with a national audience."

Yes, thank you Washington Post, what Drake can't make up for in academic recognition (although that might be the case with Relay team), the school will make up for in botched advertising. Drake is on such a high cognitive level that the rest of the world just can't see how smart we are. And we aren't sore losers. Just look at our relay team, we are great.

Katjusa (#6,632)

I'm sure the Drake marketing team is loving the attention, but when this has all died down, I hope they realize they've missed their chance to create a truly edgy, intelligent and memorable ad campaign. So what if high school kids supposedly love it? High school kids love all sorts of stupidity. Irony sells T-shirts, not educations.

On the other hand, you've got to hand it to Drake for at least trying to create a marketing campaign that deviates from the usual pics of photogenic students laughing together in the quad.

Robert Cox (#7,283)

Just like reality tv, it's more important to get attention for looking like an asshole than to get no attention at all. Thanks to D+ University for your help in promoting this truism.

Robert Cox (#7,283)

By the way, if your marketers are so hip, why didn't they realize that hipster irony hasn't been fashionable outside certain white middle-class circles since…forever?

Army K (#242,701)

I am interested to find many new things and explore market research in education. With a better education, our children will find the real value in their life.

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