Ten with Ken (Video)

Ken Steele is Canada's most trusted higher ed monitor and futurist, and in this webcast he rounds up emerging trends, research data, best practices and innovative new ideas for higher education. (For HD version see YouTube, DailyMotion, Vimeo or Facebook. Audio only podcast version available separately.)
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Now displaying: March, 2016

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Mar 31, 2016

In this special 25-minute episode, Ken distills the highlights of recent North American college and university pranks and hoaxes for April Fool’s Day (and his producer, John, plays pranks on in post-production.)

There are 10 popular targets for higher ed April Fools hoaxes:

  • Name Changes
  • Mascots
  • Improbable Infrastructure
  • Celebrity Students
  • Cats!
  • Absurd New Programs
  • Campus Security
  • Millennial Students
  • The Language Itself
  • Deep Anxieties


Ken also offers 5 tips for would-be pranksters:

  • Credibility: Suspend disbelief with credible spokespeople and professional production values.
  • Credible Details: Weave in facts that sound almost believable.
  • Absurdity: Gradually the facts and sound bites should get more and more absurd. This is the payoff for your joke, so make it good!
  • Puns: It would seem most people can’t issue an April 1 media release without tons of wordplay.
  • Reveal: Don’t hit us over the head; let us have the fun of gradually realizing that this is a hoax.


Here are some of the videos featured in this episode:


Calvin College security -

Biola University math prof -

BBC spaghetti harvest -

Pittsburg State name -

Luther College “fighting gnomes” -

Missouri State’s “Scrapper Squirrel” -

University of Findlay monorail -

University of Nebraska–Lincoln Feline Recruitment Studies -

Colgate University School of Dentistry -

University of Michigan School of Public Health - Hipstera -

Brigham Young University Hotel Harold -


And our absolute favourites:

Berklee College of Music adds the membranophone -

Simon Fraser University “Healthy Campus Initiative” -

Simon Fraser University “Satellite Campus” -

Simon Fraser University “Campus Traffic Management” -


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Mar 24, 2016

This week, Ken completes his 3-part review of higher ed branding in 2015 with a look at “New Names & Nicknames,” from DMZ to uVic! (Part 1 was “Cautionary Tales & Cautious Rebrandings” . Part 2 was “Bold New Brands of 2015” .)

Without a doubt, institutions are loathe to lose decades of brand equity and recognition by changing their names. Generally it occurs only when the institution’s mandate has changed significantly, such as when a college gains university status, or an institute becomes a polytechnic. (Most recently it was SIAST becoming Saskatchewan Polytechnic.)

For years we’ve also seen a pretty widespread trend toward dropping adjectives like “regional” and “community” from college names, and minimizing or eliminating the use of the word “college” itself.

Last spring, Saskatchewan’s Southeast Regional College launched a bright new brand identity without the word “Regional.”

The AUCC rechristened itself “Universities Canada” last year, launching a “dynamic” new visual identity using a diamond rather than a square, to symbolize convergence, such as at a crossroads, a town square, or a university quad.

Last year we also saw Fanshawe College announce the Don Smith School of Building Technology, UBC name the Peter A. Allard School of Law, and Wilfrid Laurier University rename the Laziridis School of Business & Economics.

Higher ed more often shortens names than changing them completely, such as when Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone adopted the official name “DMZ” last spring.

Ryerson University itself launched a refreshed visual identity last summer, featuring fresh new colours, a slightly modernized typeface, and a bit of “out of the box” symbolism. The positioning strategy emphasizes 5 key differentiators from other Toronto institutions, and we look at two quick brand videos to see it in action. In keeping with our “nicknames” topic, Ryerson also revealed two abbreviated logos for use in informal situations, and social media.
Q&A with Sheldon Levy:
Mind & Action:

Last February, the University of Victoria finally embraced the nickname, “uVic,” by which they have been affectionately known for years. The dynamic new brand includes refreshed colours, a new wordmark, and new graphic elements including a wavy “connective thread” and some playful birds, martlets, drawn from the coat of arms.

One of the challenges to adopting a shorter name for marketing purposes is opposition from internal and external stakeholders. I think perhaps uVic learned from the example set by Western University back in 2012. Critics thought the name geographically inaccurate, although frankly there are dozens of “Northwesterns” and “Southwesterns” in the eastern US. The new identity solved many technical issues, and introduced an elegant system of sub-brands that is the nicest I have seen anywhere.

So we’ve seen colleges and universities use several strategies to pave the way for a new name or brand. UCFV adopted an acronym, Malaspina a memorable icon, CBU stripped away all semblance of a logo, and uVic made it clear that the old logo will continue in widespread use.

The real work of rebranding an academic community isn’t creative work at all; the most challenging aspects are consultation, research, consensus building, and easing the campus into a new identity. Too many top-tier ad agencies have underestimated this challenge, or badly mishandled it. It’s the aspect of higher ed brand strategy that I think is most exciting, and it’s the reason I developed my proprietary Brand Chemistry™ model.

And this week’s #ICYMI: a new recruitment theme from Dalhousie University, “Find what drives you.” Nicely addresses concerns about an intellectually-challenging student experience.

Coming up next time: a surprise episode! Watch for it later in March, or subscribe to our free email newsletter now for exclusive early access.

Mar 15, 2016

Last week, Ken shared some classic cautionary tales of higher ed brand misfires, and we looked at some particularly cautious new brands from Canadian colleges and universities, perhaps in response. (Last week: ) This week, we look at the flipside: provocative brands and campaigns that deliberately court controversy.

Aggressive Competition:

We start with some examples of pretty aggressive “poaching” campaigns for student recruitment in other institutions’ backyards:

York University led the way with their “question every angle” campaign, and notably a subway station domination strategy at the doorstep of the University of Toronto.

Memorial University of Newfoundland has bought up bus shelters along routes to major undergraduate university campuses across Canada, to promote their Grad Studies “on the edge.”

The University of Saskatchewan has advertised on Calgary transit, dissing Edmonton as a study destination.

And St Mary’s University has bought billboards across the street from Cape Breton University, encouraging students to go to Halifax for the right education.

Going Negative:

Even more controversial campaigns in recent years have mocked major competitors:

Lakehead University took on Yale and then-president George Bush in their 2006 recruitment campaign, “Yale Shmale.”

Algoma University mocked the fictional “Colossal U” in their 2008 recruitment campaign. But spending your marketing budget establishing name recognition for an imaginary competitor seems too clever by half.

Sex Sells:

Much simpler are the higher ed campaigns that appeal directly to the teenage libido:

Education New Zealand urged Asian students to “Get further away from your parents” in a short-lived 2007 campaign with pretty racy ads.

Algoma University’s 2009 campaign, “Plan your escape,” likewise encouraged Toronto students to get 681 kms away from their parents.

Ohio’s Oberlin College got explicit with their 2011 microsite, “WhyTheF*”, and got 1.5 million pageviews in their first few months as a reward.

In 2015, though, the Université de Moncton outclassed them all with a sexy ad that garnered $300,000 in media headlines, and moreover boosted out-of-province student enrolment by 66%!

Just Plain Bold:

But a brand campaign can be bold without being controversial, or explicit. In 2015, Calgary’s Bow Valley College launched a great new slogan, “Success Rises,” and a social justice fundraiser to boot, “1,000 Women Rising.” It’s memorable, emotional, and nicely done.

But of course, good ideas attract imitators quickly, and BVC’s “Rise” was picked up less than a year later by the massive University of Phoenix, which has just launched its new brand platform, “We Rise.”

A Bold Athletic Brand:

Finally in this episode, Ken shares a gritty, powerful new brand and campaign for Stingers Athletics at Montreal’s Concordia University. You don’t want to miss it, just #ICYMI!

Next week, we’ll wrap up our review of 2015 with a look back at some new names and nicknames in Canadian higher ed branding.

Brand Consulting:

Don’t forget that Ken Steele is available to conduct higher ed brand audits, competitive audits, and campus Brand Chemistry™ workshops and presentations. Check out for more information.


NOTE: For the first time we are uploading at standard podcast definition instead of 720p. Let us know if this is a major impediment. 1080p is available on our YouTube channel as always.

Mar 8, 2016

For the next few episodes, Ken Steele returns to the Brand Chemistry™ Lab to analyze recent trends in higher ed brand identities and marketing campaigns. This week, we look at some notable brand mis-steps that have become cautionary tales for campus marketers, and the inevitable result: some very cautious, gradual rebrandings that don’t risk passionate opposition from traditional-minded stakeholders like students, faculty, and alumni.

Particularly for smaller, remote institutions experiencing the early effects of declining demographics, it’s critical to develop the visibility a strong brand can support. In recent years, many higher ed institutions have hired top-notch ad agencies to develop their visual identities and marketing campaigns, but there are definite risks to that approach. Branding an academic community is significantly more political a process than branding a consumer product like beer or fast food. Presidents don’t have the authority of corporate CEOs, faculty aren’t as compliant as typical employees, and students are a complete wild card. Not only does the process demand patience and plenty of consultation, but it also demands a marketer’s “A” game; a campus full of brilliant critical thinkers will quickly find any fault possible.

Cautionary Tales:

In Fredericton New Brunswick, St Thomas University’s student union discovered what happens when a design for your orientation week program is actually plagiarized from a broadway musical.

The University of Dayton, in Ohio, launched a new brand for its Flyers athletics, which was promptly criticized by students for appearing to promote venereal disease instead.

The University of California system attempted to launch a new, modern icon to unite the ten campuses in the UC system. But stakeholders objected to the ugly graphic, which suggested nothing so much as a flushing toilet.

And the University of Waterloo undertook an extensive strategic rebranding process in 2008, only to be sideswiped at the last moment when the proposed logo was leaked online.

Cautious Rebrandings:

In part because of these prominent brand debacles, many college and university rebrandings in recent years have been extraordinarily cautious and traditional.

Brandon University, in Manitoba, launched a new visual identity based on their traditional coat of arms in late 2014. Although it dropped the Greek motto, and streamlined the crest to focus on the shield, it retained the colour scheme and didn’t stir up opposition. The new look, sans serif typeface, and bold chevron create a much more contemporary and professional identity, without alienating traditionalists.

The Université du Québec en Outaouais redesigned its visual identity last year. Although the new UQO acronym is a starting departure in colour and typeface from the previous logo, both were pretty cold and corporate, and the change is unlikely to generate much passion one way or the other. The new marketing campaign, “Être plus près, aller plus loin” (be closer, go further) is a pretty common tagline for a regional institution speaking to local students.

The University of Ottawa launched a new brand identity in late 2014 that also followed a university marketing convention, in urging students to “Defy the Conventional.” But the new campaign, featuring bright neon colours and cartoon-like illustrations, is a notably creative variation on the theme.

Finally, a different sort of caution is evident in the gradual “unbranding” of Cape Breton University. In late 2014, CBU announced a new brand that used only a “temporary wordmark” set in the most boring typeface possible, and the single bold word “Happen.” The brand concept looks intriguing, although the creative executions haven’t really appeared yet. In fact, CBU deliberately went a full year without a logo, perhaps to help minimize opposition from those who might have been fierce defenders of the previous visual identity. The new logo for CBU is expected imminently, but this “slow-motion” rebranding process is yet another way to cope with passionate stakeholders attached to the status quo.

Next week, we’ll look at some examples of intentionally provocative brands and campaigns, deliberately courting controversy. It happens more often than you might think, and the results can be striking.

Just #ICYMI, check out Mount St Vincent University’s new recruitment campaign, featuring 15-second ads using thousands of dominos as a metaphor for the student’s path.

Ken Steele is available to consult on institutional brand strategy, deliver presentations or facilitate workshops about institutional differentiation and recruitment marketing. For more information

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