advertising and other stuff. no, really.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Kaplan University. No, yeah, it’s a real college.

First name you think of in online universities? Likely, Phoenix University. Kaplan has a new ‘break-through’ campaign out from Ogilvy though trying to change that. The main theme of the TV spots here being that higher education has let you down, and now it’s time for something different to reflect our changing lifestyles. Not sure about it being break-through as this is a direction we presented to them a few years back at one agency I was at, but changing the way people learn is half the battle.

The other half being the perception of online learning in general, that, somehow, if you got your degree online, you’re just not as smart as someone who attended a traditional four-year brick and mortar institution. Realistically, the first thing you think of when you hear online course is that it’s not a ‘real’ school. (Yes, Kaplan and Phoenix also have real campuses.)

Go after that mindset though and leverage some of the physical campuses they have to give the idea of distance learning some cred, even if in passing. If you say the campaign is about breaking down traditional educational institutions to appeal to a new type of student—bow tie professors, wooden lecture halls, autumn leaves on campus—okay. But then, why use a more traditional ‘institution’ like TV? (More on that in a sec.)

First, the site is done well and has a clean look which should appeal to the new generation of online students from all walks of life. But while I appreciate the depiction of ‘talented’ individuals throughout the campaign, the implication is that it’s the world’s fault for not discovering their inner brilliance. Hmmm. Allow reality to kick in please because HR is the great equalizer, no matter how brilliant you think you are.

The stigma of having an online degree may be less than it was—but it’s definitely still there. When it comes down to it, HR looks at both traditional and online degrees differently. (You already know how HR views creatives in this business, imagine one with a graphic design degree you earned online.)

Secondly, what’s worth noting is how Kaplan is one of those brands who launched or grew up online that are now using more traditional media to build awareness and change perceptions. (Ebay, Amazon, GoDaddy and Zappos are just a few of the brands who, while may have sparingly used print starting out, basically promoted themselves online and went over to the Dark Side of TV after they had reached a certain level of success. TV not quite being dead yet, just naturally reaches a wider audience.)

In the distance and online learning category though, Phoenix didn’t. Remember about six or seven years ago years ago how their banner ads pop-ups were freaking everywhere. Then, they started to scale that back because they knew tacky pop-ups don’t really help the cred of online learning and the stigma people attach to it. Now if you notice, their campaign has become lifestyle, focusing on the ‘you’ that you can become.

I could kind of question the move though to traditional media for a ‘new’ type of student, because most online courses throw a ton of money into search, trying to capture the high school undecideds and career changing crowd looking for a better life.

But it makes sense when you figure Kaplan probably couldn’t build any larger an audience beyond where they were because Phoenix owns the space in consumers’ minds, basically being synonymous with online learning. (Now? They have the naming rights to an actual football stadium. Not bad for an pop-up course.)

Oh, and the one cool thing about online learning? Yeah. The whole don’t have to shower before class thing.


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