CASSIES Bronze: York University looks ahead to get ahead

“This is my Time" featured York students sharing their visions of how they will help shape the world in the future.
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Situation Analysis: York, Canada’s third largest university, faced declining applications, down -6.2% in 2012 versus an overall market increase of 2.4%. In addition, York’s reputation was suffering due to an array of negative publicity brought about by labour disruptions at the school, on-campus protests and safety issues. York had also been absent from reputation/recruiting advertising since 2009; because York wasn’t telling its story, others were defining its reputation. Furthermore, the visual identity of York U had become fragmented and the brand was not clearly differentiated from its competitors.

Insight & Strategy: York is more of a commuter school than a destination school, meaning the messaging focus could be on the GTA market. York’s student population has a disproportionate number of first-generation Canadians, meaning they were also often the first in their families to attend university. For these kids and their parents, a university education was the best way for them to open new doors to a better future and a more successful life.

Research identified that students defined success as more than just achievements, jobs or money. It was also about making a positive contribution to the world while their parents were seeking reassurance of the practicality of their son or daughter’s education. These led to a new positioning, “Global thinking. Shaped here,” reflecting the quality of education at York, the international recognition of the university and the diversity in the student population. The main branding problem was that the Schulich School of Business and Osgoode Hall School of Law were readily associated with excellence, but not York.

Execution: Launched in September 2012, the campaign, “This is my time,” featured actual York students sharing their visions of how they will help shape the world, at some point in the future, along with accomplished alumni and faculty reinforcing York’s academic credentials, innovation, influence and the practicality of a York education.

Spending was focused from mid-September to early January when students would be most actively seeking information, with some carry-over through spring to maintain awareness during the application conversion period. Television and cinema were used to providing emotional appeal while a co-promotion with MuchMusic was targeted to make York “cool.” The campaign also extended to handbook designs, transit and TSAs, on-campus signage and shuttle bus wraps. A microsite served as a “vision exchange” whereby prospective students were exposed to all of the campaign creative.

Results: After 16 months, the decline in applications was reversed with a 5% increase in all applications, outperforming the category and local rivals U of T and Ryerson. York’s reputation also improved versus 2012 as measured by the Maclean’s Reputation rankings, improving by eight places on “reputation index,” 12 places on “leaders of tomorrow” and 7 places on “most innovative.”

Cause & Effect: Tracking research identified that 65% of applicants said the ads caused them to consider applying, while 39% of first choice and 38% of second choice applicants recalled the ads and identified York as the sponsor. Among non-applicants the proportion was 18%. The monitored media spend for 12 of 21 Ontario universities and colleges for 2013 was over $27 million, giving York an SOV of less than 10%.

Client: York University
Chief communications & marketing officer, communications & public affairs division: Susan Webb
Associate director, marketing & creative services, communications & public affairs: Robin Edmison
Marketing manager: Sarah Bromley
President & vice-chancellor: Mamdouh Shoukri
Agency: DS+P
Partner, CCO: Doug Robinson
Partner, brand strategist: Mike Welling
Account directors: Kim Hunter, Rachael Goodman
Sr. designers: Lara Barcelos, Solly Bulbulia
ACD/CW: Jason Buback
VP, consumer insights: Rachel Lai
Media agency: PHD Canada
VP client service director: Zoryana Loboyko
Digital director: Matt Devlin
Account director: Beth Mason
Media agency: Gaggi Media
President: Kelly Dutton,
Account director: Arden Tucker
CEO & managing director, Soshal Group: David Hale
President & producer, Ninja9 Productions: Bud Williamson
Photographer: Ron Baxter-Smith
President, Fleury Music: David Fleury
Producer, Carroll & Co.: Angela Carroll