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Direct Response Marketing

Onondaga Community College, Unfiltered

11 Jul, 2010 By: Jacqueline Renfrow Response

Re-branding the school’s image through direct response.


When the Pinckney Hugo Group marketing and communications firm in Syracuse, N.Y., was asked by client Onondaga Community College (OCC) to work on the school’s branding, the college was already experiencing outstanding success and high enrollment. But the school, also in Syracuse and with an enrollment close to 13,000, was planning for the future by looking for long-term branding.

Now more than ever, people are searching for high-value ways to expand their future careers, and because of cost and flexibility, community colleges are becoming increasingly more attractive. So, while in 2010 enrollment is up at OCC because of its low-cost option in difficult economic times, the school wanted to work on shaking the negative image that often comes along with attending a community college.

“They needed to address the stigma of community college, head on,” says Aaron Hugo, executive vice president of the Pinckney Hugo Group. “Your typical community college advertising shows a middle-aged man or woman saying ‘I went to community college, and now I’m the regional head of banking,’ or something along those lines.”

But OCC wanted to be seen differently — as a place that young students want to attend, and that they, and their parents, can be proud of. Everyone knows the cost of community college is a huge benefit, but OCC wanted to show what else these schools have to offer. So Hugo and his team set out to break the stigma by focusing marketing on Onondaga’s great professors, hands-on learning, state-of-the-art facilities and other resources. In other words, putting the focus on the educational experience — not just the price.

Re-Marketing the ‘CC’ Experience

The tag line for last year’s OCC campaign was “Rethink College.” “We pitched the idea to show a raw, unfiltered look at college, without editing,” Hugo says. “We wanted to show them (potential students) what it’s really like when they go to Onondaga.”

The campaign was multi-channel direct response, utilizing television advertising, Web banners, Facebook, texting and outdoor, all with a call-to-action to visit the microsite, RethinkCollege.org. Since the launch, 14,000 visitors have visited RethinkCollege.org with a total of 22,000 page views.

“This site is meant to be a hub for the students and experiences they are having through polls, surveys, etc. And it follows students and professors — several who are video blogging for us,” Hugo says. “It really lets people see what it’s like to be a student at the college.”

The typical community college focuses on marketing alumni experiences and achievements; job placement rates; positive college messaging; and pictures of happy students on campus. But the goal in the OCC campaign was also to show a “real college experience” that includes on-campus housing, athletics, student life, job training and knowledgeable professors.

The television advertisements first launched last September with a 60-second blind spot using animation, graphics, words and a score of music. There was no voiceover, or pretty pictures of students in quads or enthusiastically raising hands in class. The idea was to just draw consumers in to get them excited for the next installment.

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