Lakehead University courts controversy

Nice ROI.

Nice ROI.

Within a week of launching, Thunder Bay, Ont.-based Lakehead University’s edgy new Yale Shmale campaign had scored an estimated $1 million worth of free media coverage, including mentions on ABC News and the BBC, as well as Canadian outlets like CTV and CBC. Not bad for a campaign with a budget of $100,000.

Lakehead’s AOR, Toronto-based McLellan Group, came up with the concept of using president George W. Bush as the poster boy for considering Ivy League alternatives, with the headline ‘Yale Shmale.’ Eleanor Abaya, Lakehead’s director of communications, recalls how the Lakehead side reacted to the idea, ‘The instantaneous reaction of everyone was to laugh. And then we started thinking: ‘Are we brave enough?”

‘It’s very difficult to break through the clutter. We weren’t even on the radar in the GTA [Greater Toronto Area] – we had to be a little edgy,’ explains Abaya. ‘One of the tactical objectives was to generate buzz.’

After much thought and many approvals (including getting okays from the board of governors), Lakehead decided that the benefits would outweigh potential ramifications. ‘It wasn’t a light decision that was made,’ notes Abaya.

The campaign broke in late August and includes postering and street team efforts in the GTA directing potential students to the microsite yaleshmale.com. There, users can enter for a chance to win a Sony PSP or a four-year lease on a SmartCar.

Lakehead opted to use less edgy efforts simply outlining school benefits in other markets like Edmonton and Winnipeg, where they felt the audience might not be as receptive to spoofing Dubya. ‘It was really meant to be for the GTA only. The Toronto market is more sophisticated, a bit edgier,’ says Abaya.

Thus far, media coverage has been largely positive, with only the National Post giving them bad marks. Abaya also declined an invitation to appear on Fox News to discuss the campaign – she suspected their intentions were a little less than ‘fair and balanced.’

client: Dr. Fred Gilbert, president; Eleanor S. Abaya, director of communications, Lakehead University

agency: McLellan Group

senior CD: Randy Woolgar

campaign CD: Andreas Duess

AD: Randy Woolgar

strategy: Allen Massey, Anne Tomsic

senior account executive: Anne Tomsic

senior account manager: Beth Stansell