You guys, my number one guilty pleasure is branding.
I’m not even sure what that means.
I went to this seminar by a firm that re-brands nonprofits. I emerged with stars in my eyes. These re-branders seemed to do exactly what I taught hundreds of students to do: Complete a ton of research, synthesize all the information, and develop a thesis statement. A central argument for why this organization (or essay) matters.
Then in my market research job, I had the opportunity to learn about corporate branding: its jargon (equity!), its hypotheses (a brand is emotional!), and its vicissitudes (brand equity rises and falls like tides, or the stock market!). Brands are ephemeral. They capture human essence: our desires, our aspirations, our beliefs. They also help big companies make a ton of money by channeling all that’s important to us and selling it back.
But the UC thing is just funny.
My dream higher ed marketing position would allow me to tell chancellors everywhere: Branding doesn’t solve your problems. Funding the educational mission, though, might. That means investing in faculty, in research, in students. Offer reasonable sabbaticals. Offer ample financial aid. Increase tenure track lines and reduce adjuncts back to where they belong: professionals with a stable living outside of academia teaching professional track courses.
The sorts of organizational investments that make a degree accessible and valuable. The sorts of organizational investments that don’t seem to be happening, much, in colleges. Which seem instead t0 put their money into the apparatus around education. Fancy dorms and rec centers, marketing, administrators.
But if you’re having trouble marketing your product, MAKE A BETTER PRODUCT.
Instead of investing a ton of dough in marketing campaigns, try investing that dough in the educational mission. Then, within reason, invest in a marketing infrastructure that sells your campus’s achievements to the donors you need. Since public funding of higher ed is like Atlantis.
But don’t think the new logo is going to make the degree more meaningful when you’ve stripped away so much of the resources that faculty and students need to actually teach and learn something useful at college.
The new UC logo doesn’t look smart. It looks like outdated tech culture.
It has nothing to do with the product it represents: an engine of democracy through high-quality public education. A landmark tiered system of higher education that spreads opportunity around, instead of hoarding it among the already wealthy. The petally U and fading C doesn’t say anything about that, unless you think of the top of the U as an open book? Maybe?
But then I read this corporate branding insider’s take on the mishugas and moderated a bit.
The logo is meant to be flexible, manipulable, adaptable.
And it’s meant to create a system-wide brand identity to facilitate funding and such. To establish a “UC” brand, separate from the individual campuses. To market the system as something work public investment, which I can agree with. To package the UC system as another consumer good to delight us.
OK? Cool? I guess? But wouldn’t it be better to spend the money on making a UC degree worth our investment?
I obviously have some ideological difficulty with turning a UC degree into a consumer good. This attitude made teaching increasingly difficult for me. Students-as-consumers aren’t likely to believe that learning happens only after protracted intellectual wrestling. They aren’t likely to pay attention to lectures that don’t offer spoonfuls of sugar to make the medicine go down.
They are more likely to think that a UC degree is like a candy bar they can unwrap and eat. That they deserve to unwrap and eat. That teachers are there to feed them, and then give them As for showing up.
On the other hand, this is the world we’re in. If we want public investment in the UC system, maybe we have to play like we’re selling this candy bar.
And maybe a meaningless image that can be iterated endlessly on coffee mugs, pens, and t-shirts is our path to reclaiming the legacy of robust public higher ed.