University Campaign Advertising: What Do Image and Text Tell You About?

Earlier this fall, York University, my home institution, launched its “this is my time” campaign. I am guessing that this campaign is to recruit more brilliant students to the University. Let me why I am “guessing” here: the “this is my time” website does not give the viewer any clear hints as to the campaign’s purpose or its goals. By sharing their visions through social media, prospective and current students have a chance to win free tuition, so many students may have potentially participated in this campaign for this reason. As a result, students’ participation has contributed to the increased appearance of the University in social media.

this is my time website

If this campaign had taken place several years ago, it could have made the University look more innovative and, maybe, attracted more students. It’s 2012 now, though, and this use of social media to promote a product or service is becoming mundane, and for me, annoying to some extent. Besides, the campaign doesn’t have its own clear vision (and that is why it needs the visions of prospective and current students).

Does the University want to say that it will help its students keep dreaming through its educational and co-curricular programs? Or, is it trying to emphasize that it can help its students achieve their goals through the education that it offers? Without a clear message, the tagline “this is my time” does not mean much and needs some sublines to clarify its key message. Is this my time because the University cares about its students? Is this my time because it offers a small-size classroom experience with more attention from teaching staff? Or, is it my time because the University offers innovative, interdisciplinary programs that suit my needs?

Unlike York’s campaign, the communicators behind Brock University‘s “Bold New Brock” campaign, or its spin-off, have made sure to relate that the campaign’s tagline, “For both sides of the brain,” comes with an expanded explanation of what the University means by that statement.

A Bold New Brock

While the “this is my time” campaign by York University is missing sufficient textual information to clarify its message, the black and white photographic images do not seem to help establish the campaign’s message either. If this tagline and students’ dreams are representative of looking forward, not backward, colour images may have worked better: the saturation of colours would signify optimism, a sense of internal energy, and hope. Instead, these black and white images give me a sense of the past, memory, or previous accomplishment.

Compared to the “this is my time” campaign, the “Boundless” campaign by the University of Toronto uses black and white images more strategically. This fundraising campaign is definitely different from York’s student recruitment campaign in its nature. UoT’s campaign posters, like the one below, effectively use some salient effects of black and white imagery: authenticity, accomplishment, and authority. Even a mere comparison between the above and below posters easily highlights the “this is my time” campaign’s ineffective use of black-and-white imagery.

Among these campaign posters by the three universities, the individuals portrayed in the Brock and Toronto posters are looking straight into the camera, while the students’ representing York have a faraway indirect look. The more I look at the “this is my time” posters, the more the images of the York students look like graduate or yearbook pictures. Although the students in these posters seem comfortable being in front of the camera, the sideway eyelines in these posters seem to indicate a lack of confidence, particularly in contrast to Brock example. In the above Toronto poster, we can relate Malcolm Gladwell (an accomplished author)’s frontal portrait and his eyes looking into the camera to his confidence in his statement and his own accomplishments. York’s “this is my time” campaign planners might try to emphasize that the students in their ads are looking towards something just beyond the present, and the camera by extension, but many of them just seem like looking back at their high school time.

Since the “Boundless” campaign by the University of Toronto has a particular focus on fundraising, it may not be fair to compare it to York’s campaign. If I had to decide which university is giving a better impression based on their campaign posters between York and Brock, I would definitely pick Brock. Its posters are sending a clear message about the University’s promises to students. Perhaps the campaign planners at York should have consulted with faculty members at Schulich School of Business, in the Faculty of Fine Arts, and/or those associated with the program in Communication and Culture. Having many experts in the field of images, communication, and campaigns on campus, York University could have taken advantage of their wealth of expertise and done much better work on the “this is my time” posters.

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