Lakehead opts for optimism

Lakehead opts for optimism

Lakehead University’s controversial ‘YaleSchmale’ campaign from last year, featuring a befuddled-looking George W. Bush, put the Thunder Bay school on the map, generating impressive press coverage and boosting applications by 15%.

‘YaleSchmale catapulted us to a new level, so the question was, ‘Where do we go from here?” says Eleanor Abaya, Lakehead’s director of communications. ‘Quite frankly, I don’t think we could repeat that. It was a once in a lifetime thing.’

So instead of taking a jab at another high-profile school, Lakehead opted to generate buzz by tying itself to hot-button issues like global warming, poverty and war. Bold OOH posters by Toronto-based McLellan Group feature thought-provoking images like a stranded polar bear and a child soldier, with two check boxes: do something; do nothing. The posters drive potential students to, where they can find out how courses at Lakehead can help them achieve change.

‘We want to reorient the brand and associate it with something positive,’ says Abaya. ‘What could be more positive than caring about the world?’
The campaign, running in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Barrie, also includes a contest challenging high schools to be leaders in social issues, with an individual component for students.
We asked Patrick Doyle, CD at Calgary-based Trigger Communications & Design, and Donna McCarthy, strategic and creative director at St. John’s-based Dory Advertising, if this campaign inspired them.


McCarthy: This is a tough sell, to entice young people to go to an average university in Thunder Bay. The one thing I will say is that they have chosen a different route than everyone else. And because this strategy feels original, it also feels brave. But in the end the creative lets the strategy down a bit. I think for a campaign like this to work, it needs to provide answers for young people. If Lakehead University can tell me how they can help me change the world, I might be inclined to inquire further.

Doyle: The lack of brainpower applied to marketing our learned institutions is remarkable, so I found this campaign for Lakehead a happy departure. It’s also good to see university recruitment ads that do not feature shots of ethno-balanced groupings of smiling students in lecture halls or hangin’ at the campus. The Earth-saving message is timely and relevant, but the campaign could have had more depth, with different choices offered beside the check boxes in each execution.


McCarthy: The posters feel like an ad for an upcoming CBC special. I think it might help their cause to list some courses or degrees that Lakehead offers that will get you to a place where you can do something. Of course I don’t want polar bears to drown, but I wonder how going to Lakehead is going to help me help them faster than going to Brock.


McCarthy: The website does seem to provide more information on how Lakehead can help you realize your dream of becoming the next Albert Schweitzer. I wonder if it might alienate the average 17-year-old who really just wants to make some new friends, drink beer and get a degree.

Doyle: Overall, the art direction felt a bit dated, and this extended to the web. Here, the campaign theme should have been more thoroughly integrated, as you get from the ‘Do Something’ landing page to the institutional Lakehead pages all too quickly.


Doyle: The high school contest is a cunning idea, and should help put LU on the list for socially conscious students.

The creds

Client – Lakehead University
Dr. Frederick Gilbert, president; Eleanor S. Abaya, director of communications; Heather Scott, communications officer; Tove Tronslien, web developer

Agency – McLellan Group
Marilyn Whittingham, CD; Paul Jurkovic, AD; Lori Williams, flash developer; Beth Stansell, senior account manager