‘If it’s written on a sweater then I’d better not do it’

Big thanks to Rob ‘Topsyturvydom/Whirligig of Time’ Spence for sending me this article about higher education ‘mottos’ in the US (likely to be referred to as slogans or straplines over here.) A similar article from 2005 gives further food for thought.

A slogan can seem like a good idea – distilling some of the essence of an institution, creating what US consultancy Stamats call “a trust mark, a warrant, and a promise,” as well as “a word a college or university owns in the prospect’s mind.” But how worthwhile is the quest to find one?

It is possible to make radical misjudgements – some of those cited in the articles seem a bit batty with the luxury if hindsight: ‘From Here You Can Go Anywhere’ doesn’t make ‘here’ seem very appealing; ‘A College-Like University’ would be unlikely to be adopted by this institution; ‘Do it With Your Head’ could possibly give rise to hilarity.
The Christian missions of many US institutions takes the slogan-reader into semiotic territory that may feel unfamiliar to some: ‘Unwrap the Universe, Peel Back its Shroud’ from Trinity Western was enticingly apocalyptic and theologically interesting, and I’d love to know how it was interpreted by students, staff, parents etc.

But should any university (or Edge Hill in particular) have one? I don’t think the answer is automatically ‘yes’. There is a glibness and redundancy to many – of course we offer ‘great campus, great careers’ – which university wouldn’t? They have a kind of ‘marketingness’ about them, by being so direct – simply stating ‘leading the way in X’ doesn’t make it true. And some of the most powerful current brands don’t have them – Google, for instance, doesn’t need a slogan about ‘easy effective searches’ or somesuch, it just delivers its service well with nice design and a consistent personality – better things to pay attention too, maybe.

The next EHU branding exercise (for our 2009 student recruitment) uses a concept that can be expressed in many ways, a single word, a tone, a style of imagery… but we’re going strapless.

PS – There’s a small gift for the first person to identify in a comment the source of the post title…

3 thoughts on “‘If it’s written on a sweater then I’d better not do it’

  1. Indeed Mike, in a spectacularly grim track called ‘The Gospel According to Tony Day’ which formed the B-side to the single of ‘The Laughing Gnome’, originally recorded in 1967. This single was opportunistically reissued in 1973 to coincide with Bowie’s glam rock fame, and bought unheard by legions of fans who were baffled to get home and find a chirpy novelty record as the apparent follow up to ‘Jean Genie’, then doubly baffled for the B-Side to be the greyest slab of existential despair ever to be committed to vinyl. I guess someone at Deram (owners of Bowie’s 60s stuff) had a sense of humour…

  2. Good. I’m quite glad we aren’t going for a slogan. Most of them seem pretty meaningless. My favourite is Staffordshire University’s “Create the Difference” which is incapable of yielding anything meaningful. I sat through a presentation by someone from that institution, and every slide carried this gnomic phrase.

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