University Of Calif. Talks Innovation In First Digital Effort


Beyond educating students (and generating football mascots), universities are the world's most powerful crucibles of invention and progress. But as universities nationwide are seeing their budgets get buried by fiscal undertakers, one state system is going on the offensive with an integrated campaign meant to remind people that work done by academic researchers and artists defines how we live, who we are, and how we'll survive. 

The University of California's Office of the President has launched its first digital video campaign, "Onward California," comprising viral content about six alumnae and professors across the system's 10 campuses. The films, the first branded digital content from UC, unspool over the next three months, with features about luminaries like astronomer Steve Vogt, who has done groundbreaking research on extra-solar planets. 

The first episode launches Sept. 11 with a feature on John Bowers, director of the Institute for Energy Efficiency at UC-Santa Barbara. Bowers created a project called Ignite to Light, a solar-powered system meant to give lighting to people in countries without reliable electricity. Others featured include astronomer Steven Vogt, co-discover of Gliese 581 g, the first potentially Earth-like extra-solar planet; Terrie Williams, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC-Santa Cruz; Roger Bales, professor of Engineering, UC-Merced & director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute; and artist Glenn Kaino. The trailer, which is running on UC's YouTube page, ends with Bales saying, "If California can't save the world, I don't know who can."

Says Jason Simon, director of marketing at UC’s office of the president, "Within higher education as a whole, we are becoming much more marketing savvy. Branding is becoming more and more important for us. It's about growing broad-based support."

He explains to Marketing Daily that the campaign is one of several ongoing efforts to make sure California's public understands the value of the state university system. "We are in midst of a fourth year of dramatic budgets cuts; we have seen $1 billion cut from state funding with a dramatic impact on tuition, so it's really transforming the face of a public institution. We are hoping to ignite what we know is a passive sense of support for the university. So this is not a recruitment effort, it's a brand effort: the real intent is to make sure people know what the university does and that the enterprise is beyond educating students."

The effort includes a fall experiential tour making about 35 stops around the state, says Simon. "Athletics and culture are ways to engage alumnae and community, but there are other ways. And University of California research touches our lives on a daily basis." 

He says market research shows strong support for the university system. "Support for higher education and for UC is high both among voters and alumnae," he says. "They get the university's role as an economic driver. But where we fall short is in their understanding of how it touches their lives."

 The campaign will also involve each campus's social media fan base. "This is a really big and important problem for a really influential brand."

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