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Building Community Initiative

It's all about affinity

Powered by…Identity

June 8th, 2011

In March of 2009 Oregon State University launched an integrated marketing communication plan for which the central message was “Powered by Orange.” The primary objective of the campaign was to build greater off-campus visibility for OSU within the State of Oregon, especially within the urban centers. OSU has a culture of humility and that has been reflected in relatively modest investments in institutional marketing. I have to give “props” to Luanne Lawrence (our former VP for University Advancement), Melody Oldfield (Director of Marketing) and their colleagues for championing this effort. As a faculty member at OSU for more than 20 years, I can say, with confidence, that “PBO” was OSU’s most ambitious communication campaign ever.

The PBO campaign is largely focused on leveraging social media to engage the broad community of OSU’s alumni, students, faculty, staff, friends and fans. The relative success of PBO could be seen in the display of the PBO emblems (essentially orange circles) in personal attire among alumni and friends, in the windows of downtown Portland office buildings, and on automobile bumpers and windows. Success was also noted by The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) awarding the campaign its highest honor, the “Circle of Excellence” Grand Gold Award, which is just one of the many awards the campaign received. The student newspaper published an editorial lauding the program, including these comments:

“The Powered by Orange campaign has revolutionized the way universities across the nation and the world have utilized social media to involve students, fans and alumni to create a virtual community where individuals with a wide range of affiliations can come together.

The fact that our rural university is at the forefront of the innovative use of new media is a pleasant surprise, to say the least. The campaign has caught the attention of several online sites and bloggers who are impressed by PBO’s visionary use of unconventional campaign tactics”

Clearly, this campaign demonstrates the application of basic lessons that come from understanding the application of Brand Community to higher education. I could go with further examples, but will, instead, refer you to the PBO website: http://poweredbyorange.com/

On that web site (or directly on YouTube) you can also see an impressive and creative campaign video created by one of our outstanding marketing students, Darryl Lai. We do have some amazing students in our program!

Well, success is relative. During the last year, I have “enjoyed” serving on the diverse committees that faculty “treasure” and have heard much criticism of the campaign. This criticism sometimes comes from faculty and, other times, from university administrators. Essentially, these colleagues don’t get the point of the campaign or appreciate its message. Academicians seem much more comfortable about telling our story in a fashion that would make Joe Friday of Dragnet very comfortable, as in “just the facts.”

So, I am curious, would a campaign like Powered by Orange, be possible at other universities? Would other university communities be more accepting of an identity campaign that doesn’t convey “just the facts?” What experiences do you, “dear readers,” have with working to build your brand, or “institutional identity?”

Welcome to our new BCI blog subscribers!
James McAlexander, Ph.D.
Dean’s Professor of Excellence
College of Business
Oregon State University

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5 Responses to “Powered by…Identity”

  1. Melody Oldfield says:

    Thanks Dr. McAlexander for the kudos on the Powered by Orange campaign. My staff and I are extremely proud of the work and it is gratifying that it’s been recognized by our peers. I’ll be interested to see what others have to say in answer to your question about the higher ed comfort zone.

  2. beth says:

    I’m part of the UCLA family, and think you pose a very interesting question. UCLA suffers from an inferiority/superiority complex while competing with its sister UC campus, Berkeley, and its cross-town rival, USC. We, and they, always seem to be touting as many facts as we can in publicity campaigns delineating our empirical strengths and accolades to set us apart. (See http://www.today.ucla.edu/portal/ut/ucla-launches-tv-web-ad-campaign-88894.aspx) Given all the intangibles that can make UCLA a uniquely idyllic sun-drenched So Cal college experience for students and staff, in addition to its world-class academics, perhaps we should be using a gestalt-like “Powered by Orange” type campaign instead. “Powered by Blue and Gold!”

  3. janweb says:

    I really do not think you should have an inferiority complex with Berkeley. I have visited both and prefer UCLA

  4. tts sdk says:

    Despite that, people push that upon schools. Same thing in Ithaca between Ithaca College and Cornell University. Sometimes you are just in the shadow of a more successful school and people continuously will point it out. The problem is that Berkeley is a huge engine for innovations and they keep getting publicity for inventions and companies.

  5. mcalexaj says:

    Some interesting posts here…As we think about alumni relations and advancement, how do you think these rivalries play out? There are many questions that come from thinking about rivalries. Does just mere the existence of rivalry build a stronger bond to the institution? To what extent can the battle for being “one up” on the competitor just seem silly and be “off-putting” to alumni and the public? Are the “grounds” for rivalry of differential impacts (e.g. athletics, grants and innovations, competitive enrollment policies)? Not sure I have answers, but these issues are likely of importance to university marketers.

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