Knock Knock: universities aren’t there

Humour has always been an important marketing tool.

If you want widespread awareness about your product then lovesick penguins, drumming gorillas and Russian meerkats will raise a smile and earn you instant recognition. Content will never be shared, let alone go viral, if it is boring and safe.

Nevertheless, Higher Education institutions in the UK still fear the funny. Tracy Playle explores possible reasons for this in her blog post, Laughter is the Best Marketing. Generally, there seems to be a belief that comedy and silliness undermine a reputable university. This seems daft considering a good sense of humour is often seen as a sign of intelligence.

However, some universities have embraced comedy and their bravery has been rewarded with an envious numbers of YouTube views and increased visibility. Interestingly, these universities are mostly American institutions and modern UK institutions. The Russell Group largely remains stoic.

This means there is a huge gap in the market for a research-intensive UK institution to crack a joke. To provide some inspiration, here are seven of the funniest university marketing campaigns.

1. That’s Why I Chose Yale


Unlike the Russell Group, the Ivy League is not afraid to have fun. The University of Yale’s 2010 video, That’s Why I Chose Yale, repackages their recruitment messages in the form of a Glee parody. The video has since received 1.6 million views on YouTube.

This was uploaded just eight months after the first episode of Glee was aired, which shows just have quickly Yale capitalised on the cultural phenomenon.

2. I Gotta Feeling


In 2009, the L’Université du Québec à Montréal produced a deliriously feel-good lip dub of I Gotta Feeling by Black Eyed Peas using hundreds of its students. It is less polished than the Yale video, which only enhances the authenticity of this student-led project. The endless array of fancy dress, props and invention will reward repeat viewings, which might explain its 11 million views.

To appreciate the effort that went into this production, you can watch a ‘making of’ documentary with director Luc-Olivier Coultier.

 3. President’s Day


Macalester College brought in their President for their irreverent recruitment video, President’s Day at Macalester College. It features Brian Rosenberg, their actual President, going about his daily activities on campus, which include dressing as the school mascot, trying to engage students in a conversation about Jersey Shore, posing for a life drawing class, fundraising for the University in a sandwich board and conducting the Glee Club.

President Rosenberg is a great sport and delivers everything with deadpan seriousness. Can you imagine your Vice-Chancellor doing the same?

 4. Hail, Stanford, Hail


In 2007, Stanford produced a series of videos which placed a sombre voiceover about research excellence over a completely ridiculous film. This juxtaposition allows the viewer to hear an impressive recruitment message whilst they see a fun clip with sharing potential.

The example above speaks of Stanford’s research into lasers, whilst featuring everyone’s favourite viral video stalwart, a cute little cat, chasing a laser pointer. There is also a video featuring a keytar and a marshmallow bunny in a microwave.

Simple and innovative. Hail, Stanford, indeed.

 5. Why the f*** should I choose Oberlin?

Why the fuck should I choose Oberlin?
This one is not strictly endorsed by Oberlin College, although the popularity of the site has been overwhelming. It was started by two Oberlin students and provides a series of alternative reasons why prospective students should choose Oberlin – the sorts of reasons that would not feature in the official prospectus.

The frequent dropping of the F-bomb is a trademark of the site and never fails to raise a smile. Best of all, there is an interactive element – users are invited to submit reasons of their own – which gives students and alumni a sense of ownership over the site.

6. Zombies and swans


America may be leading the way with funny student recruitment content but there has been some progress on this side of the pond.

University of Lincoln student, Thomas Ridgewell, created an unendorsed admissions video which is interrupted by a zombie invasion. The video was banned multiple times but has since found 3.7 million views.

However, based on its success, Thomas was invited back to make an official video for the institution to help their Clearing campaign. Thankfully, it looks like he was given free rein to be creative and the video retains his bizarre, and very funny, sense of humour.

7. Coventry’s answer to Creature Comforts


In 2014, Coventry University created a series of videos which built animated characters around unscripted dialogue recorded in student focus groups. The videos are essentially the Higher Education equivalent of Creature Comforts and will certainly make you chuckle.

The exclusive focus on input from current students creates a high level of authenticity and every location used in the videos is an accurate recreation of a real campus setting. If you look closely, the Coventry University buildings are even embedded in the skin of the characters.

So, why not challenge your institution to put some humour in their marketing material?

Simon Fairbanks

Simon Fairbanks

Simon Fairbanks is the Undergraduate Marketing Manager for the College of Arts and Law at the University of Birmingham. He has been working in Higher Education since 2011. Simon is a self-published author and has written several books. You can read more about his writing projects at www.simonfairbanks.com.

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