McGill has it “made” in new brand platform

The Montreal university celebrates 200 years with branding meant to appeal to both prospective students and alumni donors.

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It has “made” a disproportionate number of Nobel laureates and Rhodes scholars, and now McGill University is celebrating 200 years of public education and research with a new campaign and brand identity, a “new creative platform.”

The creative for “Made by McGill” includes both new branding, as well as an anthem video highlighting famous graduates like Leonard Cohen and how student and research successes achieved under “lamp light and late nights” and by “questioning everything and feeding curiosity.”

The creative was developed by agency Sid Lee. Bertrand Cesvet, CEO and senior partner at Sid Lee (as well as a McGill alumn), tells strategy that McGill University is a beacon for world-class learning and leadership. “Our goal was to get to a distinct and evocative story for why this is and why this will remain true for the next 200 years,” Cesvet says, and he calls the “made” mark a “daring, modern and optimistic look.”

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The accompanying anthem video, he says, is about celebrating the people, stories and ideas that have shaped McGill, by including a diverse collection of “trailblazers, dreamers and innovators.”

Louis Arseneault, VP of communications and external relations at McGill, says that what initially drew the school to the “Made” concept was the reciprocity of people made by McGill, who in turn shape the university’s future. 

“It’s a very flexible platform that focuses on the smart, bold, determined people who make up our community. We know that if we tell these stories well, by drawing on real and relatable McGill experiences, they’ll resonate with students,” Arseneault says.

He says that the university hasn’t embarked on anything like this in recent memory and it’s different in scope than anything the university has ever done before. For example, he says, it’s the first time McGill has gone through a market research exercise, brand positioning and creative platform development for both general marketing purposes as well as a major fundraising campaign.

Arseneault says “made” marks the launch of a major fundraising campaign ahead of its bicentennial celebrations next fall. Arseneault says it was critical to develop a brand strategy that would serve the needs of both of these milestones. Plus, he says, having a common platform for all of its general marketing needs means the university’s communications will be more consistent and cohesive, and so its audiences will better remember its stories.

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“The stories that we tell in this ‘Made by McGill’ style, and the way in which they are told, can speak to alumni as well as the a prospective student,” Arseneault says.

Arseneault says McGill is attractive to high-achieving prospective students locally, nationally and internationally, but due to fierce global competition, it needs to be present to continue to attract the best students, particularly on the international level. According to the latest Stats Canada figures, international post-secondary enrollment is outpacing domestic student enrollment (which actually declined slightly) and now accounts for about 12% of the overall student body.