York U puts itself at the forefront of society’s issues

The university's new recruitment campaign envisions a better world with help from students who strive to make a difference.
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York University is putting it commitment to tackling societal issues front and centre in its latest recruitment campaign.

“Right the Future” shows how different societal challenges look today and imagines how they could look in the future, thanks to the work of students and researchers working in its different departments. Examples include an all-male engineering robotics team being replaced by a more gender-balanced team, a homeless person getting easy access to affordable shelter or ocean plastics being replaced by a thriving jellyfish. Each outcome is zeroed in on with a red rectangle, a longtime hallmark of the school’s branding.

“This is a time for York University to be bold and clarify what we stand for,” says Susan Webb, the university’s chief communications and marketing officer.

Every university has its own approach to marketing, but Webb says York has been built around a commitment to social justice since it was founded in 1959. More recently, York ranked 33rd globally out of the 767 institutions on the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, which assess universities against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Webb says making more progress on these goals are a part of York’s current academic plan, which runs until 2025. And the campaign, she says, was designed to demonstrate York’s purpose, values and the real impact it is having, an effort to connect with high school students who are increasingly looking for institutions that align with their own values and beliefs.

“We are really focusing on our efforts on positive societal change and tackling a whole host of complex issues that right now, which are even more important than they were previously, given the global environment we’re operating in,” Webb says.

Being in market now is key, in order to be top of mind for high schoolers considering their postsecondary options – and what kinds of experiences they want to be exposed to.

The university says its commitment to partnerships and unique opportunities for students is also essential to the school’s mission, examples of which include education opportunity’s through York’s eco-campus in Costa Rica, and conservation leadership opportunities with WWF. These kinds of unique opportunities are part of what attracts potential students to one school over another, as are the school’s bursaries and relief funds, since many students work part-time jobs while enrolled.

In addition to the broadcast and online videos, the campaign – developed by Ogilvy Canada – also features ads in print, display, social and on Spotify, highlighting the work York is doing to affect positive change. The more brand-focused ads are meant to work in tandem with the tactical marketing it does for its specific programs between September and March, when potential students are considering their schools of choice.

Spotify is a new platform for the brand, Webb says, as it endeavours to test-and-learn new ways to keep up with its young demographic, which tends to be a moving target.