When I first told people in my hometown of Saugatuck, Michigan, that I had committed to the University of Oregon, most people had the same reaction: “Isn’t that the school with the great football team and awesome jerseys?”
Around the country, UO is known for its athletics and apparel. For years, viewers watched on TV as DeAnthony Thomas returned kicks, LaMichael James dominated defenses and Marcus Mariota took apart opponents — all while donning the coolest jerseys in sports.
The Nike-fueled rebranding of apparel, and the school itself, has aided Oregon athletics monumentally in turn helping the university as a whole. With that being said, reducing Oregon to simply a great football school with some awesome jerseys would be a disservice. According to the university’s website, a teaching staff that includes one Nobel Peace Prize winner, one MacArthur fellow and three Pulitzer Prize winners proves that this school should be known for what they are doing off the field just as much as what they are doing on it.
UO hasn’t done a good enough job branding themselves as a school that is more than just Nike. According to the Register Guard, Oregon entered a three-year, $3.4 million contract with advertising firm 160over90. This was part of a larger five-year, $20 million advertising campaign that was aimed to advance their academic image around the nation. After a year and a half, Oregon dropped their contract with 160over90.
This exit came after 160over90 produced an ad campaign and video centered around the word “If.” The campaign appeared to be very generic and broad, with none of the things that make Oregon unique and special even being mentioned in the video.
Bill Harbaugh, an economics professor and president-elect of the University Senate, said, “The original campaign was inane and insulting, and we were really disappointed that the board of trustees and our former president decided to spend that much money on advertising instead of addressing the university's real problems.”
Instead of going in a new direction with marketing, the university chose to shift its focus to raising money for academic programs and faculty hiring, which are important causes. With that being said, improving Oregon’s academic reputation across the country will also bring about substantial improvements. With an improved academic status comes top students, professors and boosters all wanting to be a part of one of America’s top academic and athletic schools.
The university’s decision to stop excessive and wasteful spending on branding and advertising was smart. However, in the years since backing out of the 160over90 deal, no new advertising campaign has been released. UO needs to present a consolidated marketing campaign — that the faculty supports — to help improve their national image.
“A branding campaign could be very helpful if it is directed toward the kinds of goals that the faculty supports in large measure. There would need to be a step-by-step process with the faculty to determine what it is that we would like branded,” said Robert Kyr, a music professor and former leader of the University Senate.
A marketing campaign that successfully presents Oregon’s academic goals and programs could help attract students and faculty that may have simply viewed Oregon as a football school before. With state-of-the-art architecture, beautiful scenery, distinguished alumni and a campus located next to one of the most eccentric towns in America, there is no reason that UO shouldn’t be nationally respected in both academics and athletics.