Salute to little plastic boxes (My favourite brands 3)

As I live in a small house, storage is important in preventing chaos and anarchy from overtaking my whole existence. So boxes are handy things to have and if they can be nice as well as functional then so much the better. A brand of plastic box has become an infinity of objects of desire and enthusiasm for me…

Really Useful Boxes


These puppies are great – they come in millions of sizes, have a nice clip action, some cool colours, fit inside each other, and seem indestructible (the advertising shows a car standing on them.) So they work – but then so do cheaper ones. But something about these makes my heart lift at the sight of them (only slightly; on scale of one to ten where ten is a new Douglas Coupland novel and one is a used teabag these would be a four; but nevertheless a definite jolt of excitiment.) I nearly cheered when their delivery lorry drove past. Am I insane? Arguably, but in terms of marketing I think the brand-appeal of these is a mixture of things:

they keep spawning new versions (“A box with little compartments for craft materials! What will they think of next!”)

the functionality makes it seem that they have invented all this stuff just to help me out.

A tip of the hat also to Lock & Lock food boxes -they’re leakproof, airtight and dishwasher safe. Again they come in loads of different shapes and sizes, to contain anything from a handful of spice to a gigantic banquet for the entire royal family.

Products like these promise a world of clean organisation – a world that makes sense, with everything in its place all the wild stuff of life… pasta, pencils, CDs… tamed and contained.

Like all fantasies, more fun to imagine than it would be to actually live in.

So how DO you promote a university?

Let’s say you want to help a university become better known, and in particular more popular with students. What should you focus on? Universities aren’t homogeneous entities: they sometimes seem like a flag of convenience for a loose alliance of individuals with differing agendas. So what exactly is the ‘university’ you’re seeking to promote? Whatever it says on the letterhead, I’d suggest that a university has the following elements contributing to its external image:

the university itself as a corporate body

faculties and/or schools and/or departments

the subjects it teaches/researches, which may or may not map on to the faculties etc.


research institutes and centres

individual academics (with their own reputations, even brands) and their academic/creative output

ditto alumni

students, perhaps a Students Union

projects and initiatives of varying durations (eg Centres of Excellence in Learning and Teaching)

campuses and buildings (including sometimes iconic architecture)

facilities for the public, eg theatres, galleries, sports facilities

cultural/sporting groups, eg choirs, teams

Universities are also linked to or associated with

towns, cities, regions

national initiatives such as Aimhigher and Education UK

professional bodies, areas of employment.

That’s a lot of stuff, fun to draw as a molecule diagram but a bit scary too. Which of these elements should one bring to the fore? I think it depends on a number of things:

audience and timing, eg potential students may typically want to know about courses while deciding where to apply, and focus on campus end environment while deciding which offer to accept

the medium, eg newspapers are more likely to run articles about/by/quoting individual academics (with interesting/novel/controversial things to say) than about your nice new building or great course.

But in a sense ‘it’s all good’ and all needs to be communicated somehow. It’s important therefore to put together good content about each of the elements, telling each kind of story well, showing those things that can be shown, then:

structuring your overall communications so that any of the audiences can pull down whatever is most meaningful to them at the time

planning some proactive comms so that key audiences get the relevant bits put before their eyes in an appealing way, at the right time.


textual amphibians

After having had a group of academics do something a bit like marketing (at an awayday), it was quipped that maybe at marketing team meetings we did academic stuff like writing modules or doing discourse anaysis.  This isn’t quite the case, though part of our daily work involves trying to transport meaning across discourse genres – taking chunks of text from the university world(s) and trying to make them work well (ie serve up the desired meanings) within other discourse communities, eg

the media (producers and readers)

university applicants

professional groups in say health, education, business.

This isn’t straightforward by any means, as anyone who as tried to rewrite a 250-page degree programme validation document as a rap song, text message or henna tattoo will testify.

Man in a SuitCASE

This year I’m acting as co-chair of the markeing track of the CASE Europe Conference (Edinburgh, 28-31 August.) I’ve attended several CASE confernces ove the years, as well as other gatherings of marketing/PR/alumni folks under the auspices of other organisatons, some still with us (HEERA, that’s with two Es) and some not (eg the bracing-sounding PPRISC, Polytechnic Public relations and Information officers Standing Committee I think.) This however is the first time I’ve had an organising role. It’s been fun so far, working with colleagues to try and programme the kind of conference that drives delegates mad with the agony of deciding between compelling choices of sessions.  It’s particularly exciting to be contacting people whose work I really admire, both within and beyond the education sector. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing what John Grant has to say to us – John’s books have redefined modern branding as ‘the new traditions’ and ‘popular ideas’; a voluntary process that works ‘through ideas that people want to catch, that they need to live, that excite them.’

(I once ran a John-Grant-inspired I-Spy type quiz on a coach journey, compiling an A-Z of brands using John’s definitions as observed from a moving vehicle (ie you had to identify 26 brands, one with each letter, C for Chav, D for Donny Osmond etc.) This was when we had an awayday to a city none of us had ever visited, a sort of brand immersion process. Most people won the prize (medium-quality unbranded Cava) though as I recall the letter K was surprisingly difficult to fill.)

And the winner is… Triceratops University

While Toby Litt was contemplating the vermilion sands of our campus, I was at the HEIST Awards Ceremony at Old Trafford. Not having entered, I was able to watch from a relaxed perspective without any adrenalin spikes or grief attacks. I’m sure the winners are highly worthy and look forward to seeing the work – there were no slides or project summaries that I could see, just marketing folks dashing on to the stage to get their certificates. One thing that semed mildly amusing at the start of the evening and supremely hilarious after a few drinks was the music pounded out to fill the gaps while winners reached the stage – an ear-splitting blend of driving rock and pop; one could only speculate at the link between the snatches of lyrics and the winning institutions. I wonder who decided who got Bachman Turner Overdrive and who got Mousse T’s “Horny” (chorus “I’m horny; horny, horny, horny…”)