Ideas, musings and inspirations.

Today, we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives. We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology—where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests purveying contradictory truths. Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death, and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!

Anyone who remembers watching the Super Bowl 29 years ago this week may recognize that speech from the now iconic “1984” TV spot that introduced the Apple Macintosh personal computer.

Apple officially aired the original commercial just once, during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII, about the time that Los Angeles Raiders running back Marcus Allen broke the hearts of every Washington Redskins fan with a 74-yard-long touchdown run.

Apple and its agency, Chiat/Day, created one of the most famous, honored, and popular (1,750,000 YouTube views and counting) pieces of communication since President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Like Lincoln, Apple spoke once — trusted the power of its communication — and let the audience judge its ultimate meaning and impact.

Remember, the only mention of any product or feature came in the closing seconds of voice over: “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.”

It’s what I would call holding the tension, between an organization’s nearly insatiable urge to be heard, understood and admired — and an equally strong regard for the audience’s judgement, imagination, and willingness to be challenged.

Like Lincoln, Apple and Chiat/Day’s copywriter and art director, Steve Hayden and Brent Thomas aimed high — at what the great president and orator called the “better angels of our nature.”

In many ways, every Apple television commercial, print ad, and product launch since 1984 has drawn a measure of inspiration and restraint from that seminal moment in the company’s history.

Higher education marketing professionals and anyone who goes about the work of communicating can be similarly reassured.

Less, almost always, is more.

While mass consumer advertising makes a particular case for saturation, repetition and audience recall — I’m Lovin It — such a tack ignores fundamental truths of higher education marketing.

Conversions pay the bills, yes, but the true test of customer loyalty comes years — even decades — after graduation.

In our collective rush to meet annual enrollment goals, we can easily mistake next year’s mean SAT or summer melt rate for lasting success. We know why early spring deposits matter, but do we give equal attention to lifetime student value? Do our routine communications inspire a half century of alumni interest, energy and engagement?

As higher education marketers speaking into a hailstorm of messaging static and digital/paper clutter, we are easily tempted to raise our voice, repeat ourselves or wring the last drops of meaning out of higher education buzz words like “change” in hopes of being heard.

We can also become infatuated — momentarily or for years — with words, campaigns or trends that resonate. While every success should be incubated and encouraged, we must not get too comfortable or stagnate. It’s not just a loss of momentum, but the erosion of belief that we can — actually must — continually deepen and enrich new messages and widen circles of interest, while still preserving root sources of spark and inspiration.

I have great appreciation for higher education marketers who take a cue from the likes of Abraham Lincoln and Apple. They hold the very real tension, between expediency and the mandate every creative carries within for authenticity, originality and the daily summons to risk.

In a world in which audience “testing” and quantitative research threatens to aim communication down to the lowest common denominator — a people’s choice kind of popularity contest — a few schools and creative teams dare still speak to those “better angels of our nature.”

They resist pressures of “institutional consensus” and instead get curious about their audiences and the more complex and nuanced stories they have to share. Rather than respond only to the immediate need, they work toward a higher good — creating exceptional communications that showcase the growth of mind, soul and spirit that most schools profess to offer 17-year-old prospects.

Middlebury College and Colgate University stand out as two places where writers, editors and marketers continually champion the power of words, images, and story to capture larger truths regarding their school, culture and brand promise.

These and other high-performing schools and agencies prove that change, surprise, delight and renewal remain not only acceptable to wide-ranging audiences, but welcome and appreciated.

They carry on the lesson of Lincoln’s rhetorical grace and Apple’s impeccable timing — reminding us that the more potent the communication, the less volume or repetition required.

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Comments

  1. The subtle link between, Abraham and Apple.

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