As a creative marketing agency we have an enormous respect and affection for TV commercials. But sometimes, in the wrong hands, an ad can do real damage to your brand, your reputation and your business. Such is the case with the TV campaign the American Intercontinental University (AIU) is now running.
Here’s an example of an ad that misses – by a mile!
For those of you who may not have seen any of these 30-second spots, here’s a link to one of them. As you can see, while the tagline of the school is “AIU. The Serious U,” showing people who are supposedly studying while playing tennis, washing a car, flipping pancakes, etc. makes the tagline seem ironic. This is especially damaging because the quality of education offered by AIU has been challenged off and on by various academic accreditation organizations for decades.
I know quite a bit about AIU since they commissioned me to write a series of articles on the benefits of online education for them. I also created bios of dozens of AIU professors, descriptions of some of their brick and mortar campuses and other marketing communications for them over several years. I know that AIU is indeed, a “serious U,” with excellent professors and courses. However, long distance learning – whether it’s accomplished by way of a mailed correspondence course or an online university – doesn’t have the same prestige as attendance at a brick and mortar campus. Moreover, these commercials certainly don’t help enhance the image of online schools.
When your advertising conflicts with your brand, you’ve got problems.
I’m assuming the concept behind the commercials was to make online education seem like it can fit easily and painlessly into a busy life. But there are several problems with this. First, courses taken online can be just as challenging and time-consuming as those given in a classroom can. That’s why attending classes online requires a considerable amount of self-discipline and commitment. Second, no one can learn an academic subject well while their body (and presumably at least part of their brain) is engaged in a physical activity! Finally, online education is not only intellectually demanding, it’s also expensive – costing tens of thousands of dollars for a degree. Yet this commercial seems to be equating it with actions that are mundane, routine and of no real consequence.
What really galls is that these commercials trivialize the whole concept of long distance learning.
They seem to suggest that online courses are so easy, little or no mental engagement is required. That would be bad enough if the only people watching these spots were potential students. But since they are aired on national TV they are also seen by potential employers of AIU graduates. I can’t help but think employers who are watching these spots may regard a degree from AIU as worthless. In contrast to the AIU spot, here’s an effective one from Kaplan University (a rival of AIU) that has charm and credibility.
Why does this matter? Because people believe what they see.
Images – like a girl playing tennis while reading a class assignment online – have staying power. And a bad impression is very hard to shake whether it’s made during a job interview or from an ad describing a product. The truth is, advertising works – on TV, in print and online. So be careful what you put out there. If you get it wrong, it can do more harm than good.
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