Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The University of Wisconsin leverages its brand

From "Sifting and Winnowing" to Branding and Marketing
The University sure likes its "W" logo. It's popping up everywhere. One of its more recent star turns is on the new Grainger Hall addition at the corner of Park Street and University Avenue. It's all about branding. The University used to value "that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found." Today the administration seems more concerned with the value of their brand.

"Sifting and winnowing" can be laborious and time consuming. Why not get on the fast track to truth, or at least truthiness, with a good PowerPoint template that "leverages the powerful University of Wisconsin brand"? That seems to be what University Communications ("Creativity from Within") seems to be suggesting in promoting their new PowerPoint template designed to be used by faculty, staff and students.
PowerPoint is a common office tool that often suffers from poor execution—canned slides, boring templates, and weak design choices. If a standard format doesn't meet your needs, we can provide an alternative. University Communications is pleased to offer University of Wisconsin PowerPoint templates for your use.

Download these professionally designed templates and customize them with your content for a compelling presentation that also leverages the powerful University of Wisconsin brand. We’ve designed three distinct templates specifically for use by UW–Madison faculty, staff and students. Each template integrates the university’s colors, logo and iconic imagery. By emphasizing the Wisconsin brand, your presentation will be relevant and memorable for both internal and external audiences.
Microsoft's psychically deadening audience management tool has done enough damage in the business world. Using PowerPoint to make classroom presentations more "relevant and memorable" while leveraging the UW brand makes my eyes glaze over. Hasn't anybody at University Communications read Edward R. Tufte? They might start with his article in Wired, "PowerPoint is Evil," which is subtitled "Power Corrupts. PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely."

In any event, the University has its sights set on bigger game than mere PowerPoint templates. A few months ago the NYT ran an article, "The Graffiti of the Philanthropic Class," about how institutions of all sorts -- museums, schools, medical centers -- are in a mad scramble to sell off their names to the highest bidder. Apparently the Wisconsin School of Business tried to sell its name for $50 million, but they didn't get any takers. That's when, according to the Times, they had a better idea -- greenmailing their alumni into paying them not to sell their name.
As The Associated Press reported last month, the dean at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business couldn’t find anyone to pony up a cool $50 million to get his or her name on the school. So the dean switched strategies and discovered that several givers were willing to chip in to ensure that, for 20 years at least, the school would not be personally branded, but would instead simply remain the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business (a long enough handle, surely). The non-naming fund eventually reached $85 million.

“It is an unprecedented act of selfless philanthropy,” Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for the American Council on Education, told The A.P. “I hope it is the start of a trend.”
There's lots more information about the transaction gift on their website.

That puts a whole new spin on that big "W" on Grainger Hall, which is part of the Wisconsin School of Business. It's not just a brand. It's a constant reminder to alumni that in 20 years they'll have to pony up again, or the "W" just might morph into a well-heeled corporation's logo instead. Meanwhile, think of all the other schools on campus that can put their names up for sale. If the business school is worth $85 million, think what you could get for the Physics Department. Heck, even the English Department might be worth a few bucks. They're sitting on a goldmine.

A couple weeks ago, the Daily Cardinal ran a story headlined UW sues Sesame Street for using the letter ‘W’. It was an April Fool's Day joke, but when you think about it, they had a point. Brand equity is important. The University owns a valuable resource. Why should they give it away? Today Sesame Street, tomorrow the world!


Dr Bud Diablo Presents 'Letter From Here' said...

What would it cost me to have you call your blog "Dr Bud Diablo Presents MadGuy's Wise 'n' Wacky 'Letter from Here'? I get a little badly needed PR and you make some easy green. One hand washes the other. What do you say?

dougie said...

Guess where else the exact same "W" badge (as pictured on Grainger) just showed up? Next time you're walking down Johnson, look up at the top floor of the horrific monstrosity that is the University Square development.

I saw it up there yesterday and was wondering why they thought it would be OK to brand their privately owned development with the UW logo. After reading your post, my suspicion as to the guilty party has shifted from the developers to the University.

Madison Guy said...

If the pending deal whereby readers would pay to not rename Letter from Here falls through, all serious offers will be considered. Please be advised, however, that clearing our lengthy naming compliance review process may take a minimum of 30-90 days. Branding is serious business, and our attorneys are tough, tenacious and a persistent. Thanks for the offer.

Madison Guy said...

Dougie -- I think you're right about the guilty party. Can't you just see them using one of those snazzy PowerPoints to deliver the branding guidelines to the developer? Wouldn't be surprised if they charge a licensing fee. Soon I suppose the logo will be stamped on the Babcock ice creams cones they sell at the Union. Or is it already?

Jeff said...

What a sad state of affairs when all is a brand, and brand must prevail over all considerations ... I guess Universities are no longer the exception. I read on Paul Krugman's NYT blog recently that a NC university accepted money from corporato-crypto-fascists to make Atlas Shrugged required reading for all students in the business school programs ... Scary.

The ideas are scary enough, but the prose alone will have those poor kids screaming ...

Maybe they could just abbreviate the business school's name to UW-SOB. That would sum it up nicely for me. As for branding your blog, I'll keep my nose out of that!

Dr Bud 'W' Diablo said...

Years ago, when I taught at UW, I pioneered the concept of sponsored lectures. With a captive lunch-hour audience of 200-300 drowsy, hungry undergrads, promos for expresso and gyros sandwiches could not have been more timely--or lucrative. I had this down to a science. For some reason, students tended to arrive late and leave early for my lectures, so I charged more for messages delivered in mid-lecture. I also included letterbox ads and coupons on the exam forms. Gone was the tedium of retrieving exams from under chairs after the test; students kept them to redeem the vouchers.

The Chairman got wind of this after I promoted a term paper service and called me in. He labeled my activities "crass" and thundered that they "threatened the very independence the University has striven so mightily to attain and protect." He was si upset he had to pop a nitro.

The laughable objections were easily answered. I first pointed out that I was in no way endorsing the term paper service; they wer endorsing me. I told him that the notion of gentility vs crassness was downright medieval. I reminded him of how greedily he fed at the federal trough, leading the department in grant money. So much for the vaunted "independence." He really had no rebuttals, but still ordered me to desist or face non-renewal. When my length appeal failed, I quit in protest. Of course, by then I was making more money in the so-called "private sector" anyhow.

Branding simply acknowledges what cuccessful capitalists have long know: If there is money to be made, only a fool fails to make it.

Anonymous said...

Atlas Shrugged is a fantastic novel.

Dr Bud Palmolive-Diablo said...

If I'm not mistaken, the latest edition of the book is called "Burger King's 'Atlas Shrugged'."