By Ross Bleile | Contributing Writer

Advertisements line both sidewalks of the Saint Mary’s Parkway when coming into campus. (Maureen Thaete/COLLEGIAN)

Last year, Saint Mary’s Office of College Communications launched their Institutional Branding Campaign (IBC), stemming from President James Donahue’s strategic plan. The statistics have shown that the campaign has been very successful in its first year of implementation.

This fall, roughly 650 first-year students are enrolled at Saint Mary’s, which was up from 580 in 2016. There was also a 20 percent increase in the number of visits to the College’s website since last year.

Hernan Bucheli, Vice Provost for Enrollment and Communications, said the goal was to “get the message out” and “create awareness about Saint Mary’s.” The campaign fetched over 72.5 million total ad impressions, which are measured by the amount of times the ads are seen. “[We wanted to] reinforce the strength of our brand in our market.” The Saint Mary’s market is primarily concentrated in the Bay Area. However, it spans the entire west coast.

In an email, Michael McAlpin, Assistant Vice Provost and Director of Media Relations, wrote, “This is a headline-driven campaign whereby market research played a major role in helping to identify our unique branding elements.” He continued, “The Office of College Communications, along with the institutional marketing committee and assistance from a branding firm helped to develop these headlines.”

Both the digital and printed ads consisted of a picture of either Saint Mary’s students or the campus, which were accompanied by a slogan. The slogans used in the ads included: “World-class education without the attitude,” “A pinnacle of education that’s surprisingly down-to-earth,” “An education should build connections; it shouldn’t require them,” and “Pre-med and pre-law without the pre-tense.” These slogans were selected after being tested through market research.

“We are a strong academic school that’s accessible,” Bucheli said, as he explained how the slogans reflected the ways the College wanted to portray the school during the campaign. “We’re mission driven and also strong academically.”

The Institutional Branding Campaign included digital ads on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Spotify, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google, which were mostly driven toward prospective students and influencers. Printed ads were featured in BART trains and stations. They also appeared on the exterior of select Bay Area buses.

High foot traffic areas such as the Oakland Airport and Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek were other places where the ads were strategically placed. Additionally, a billboard along Interstate 680 in Walnut Creek and ads displayed on digital billboards in Oakland were a part of the campaign as well.

“The digital and outdoor placements were based on market research relative to where the college could have the most exposure and market penetration,” said McAlpin.

A commercial was also created for the campaign, which has appeared on television and is also posted on the Saint Mary’s YouTube channel. 

“The photos, and our new institutional commercial, reflect the College’s academic and faith-based mission, beautiful campus, and diverse student population,” said McAlpin.

Moving forward, the campaign will proceed as planned into its second year. After this year, the campaign will be reassessed and may be renewed for an additional year or two.

“We hope to get 72 million more impressions this year,” said Bucheli. “Our goal is to build.”

The ads from last year’s campaign received over 84,000 clicks.

Funding for the campaign was part of the budgeting from the strategic planning initiatives.

While the ads have received mostly positive feedback on social media, some students have mixed feelings about the campaign. However, a majority of the feedback was still favorable.

“I’m kind of indifferent,” said Jamie Innabi ’21 in regards to the campaign.

Innabi first saw an ad on a bus when she came to visit the campus before she accepted her admission to Saint Mary’s. “If anything, they are kind of off-putting seeing them on the bus,” Innabi said. “There’s this stigma where I’m from that a school [advertised] on a bus isn’t a good school.”

Even though she eventually decided to attend Saint Mary’s, she didn’t think the ads impacted her decision to enroll. “I think it’s nice to bring recognition to the school,” Innabi said. “[The slogans] all stand true; [they’re] not a misrepresentation.”

Alex Habash ’20 had similar feelings toward the campaign. “It’s kind of gimmicky,” Habash said, in reference to the “World-class education without the attitude” ad.

Although Habash had some criticisms of the ads, he thought that they had good intentions and portrayed the school accurately.

“We’re inclusive, and the ads really show that, which is representative of our school,” he said.

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