The University of Montana (UM) is nestled in the Bitterroot Mountain range in Missoula, MT. Missoula is known for its “out there” culture—a place that embraces diversity, inclusivity, art, entrepreneurship, and nature. UM embodies and contributes to that uniquely-Missoula way so much so that the two entities are often interchangeable and viewed as one. As Montana’s flagship University, UM hangs their hat on being student-driven, a place that acts as a second home to their 14,000ish students and supports their school and personal endeavors.
Despite this seemingly idyllic setting, enrollment is an ongoing challenge for UM—in the fall of 2016 enrollment dropped 4.8% (after a 4.3% drop in 2015). Factors contributing to the drop in enrollment include recent (within a few years) negative press, society devaluing a liberal arts education, and an increased competitive environment.
Despite these challenges, alumni, students, faculty, and staff recognize UM as ‘America’s higher education best kept secret.’ There is a genuine love for the University, the professors, and the community.
MERCURYcsc was brought on to elevate the University to a place of relevance in the [competitive] market, showcasing the University’s unique culture, world-class education, and community-driven ethos through two :30 commercials that would air regionally and nationally during college football games. UM’s reputation has declined over the years, and with these two commercials, we had the opportunity to help get UM back to a place of excellence and importance.
Challenge accepted - the Mercury team got their Griz on!
Our work at MERCURYcsc is driven by strategy and insights, so true to Mercury form, to start things off, we worked with the University to gather the thought-leaders, the passionate, and the influencers for an immersion session. This group, 18 strong, was made up of alumni, professors, staff, and students. Not only did we gather insights that helped drive our strategy and understanding of the current UM landscape, but it was eye-opening and refreshing to experience the unwavering loyalty of every person in the room.
"Innovation, communication, creation—it all comes together in the UM/Missoula ecosystem."
After the deep dive session, we drilled down to two key insights:
Drilled Down—the ultimate opportunity and north star for our team and the UM team was:
If you are thinking, that sounds bigger than a video strategy, we agree! We realized that what UM needed was more than just a video strategy. What they were asking for and what we wanted to provide them was a campaign concept that could be leveraged across all channels and fully integrated into their marketing plan. We could make a big splash with the videos, but in order to elevate the UM brand in the market they needed a brand-level messaging and creative overhaul.
Thus, the concept of Let’s Go There, was born. A concept that speaks to the idea of inspiring like-minded people to join the UM movement—one that is empowering, aspirational, and rewarding. A double entendre that literally means attend the University of Montana AND when you attend the University of Montana, you are part of a unique tribe who goes above and beyond their comfort zone to achieve success.
The University of Montana embraced the idea of Let’s Go There, it’s exactly what they want to be about, exactly what they want to say right now.
With the larger campaign concept approved, the MERCURYcsc team started in on execution. Our team's approach was to focus one commercial on the power of the place and highlight the unique culture that is UM:
And, the other commercial was focused on elevating the power of a liberal arts degree and it’s value in today’s society:
If you know Montana, you know the Cat (Montana State University) vs. Griz (University of Montana) battle is real. In year’s past, the perception was that the University of Montana commercials were “not as good” as Montana State University’s spots [read: snarl, growl, scratch, hiss]—all UM constituents were ready to see that change. So one of our defined measures of success for this project was to have better commercials than MSU. Mission accomplished—the feedback across the board was positive. The University embraced the commercials and the concept as their new battle cry, so much so, the University President, Royce Engstrom, built his State of the University speech around Let’s Go There and for the first time ever, showed a video [The Liberal Arts commercial] during that speech.
The campaign commercials have laid the groundwork in helping to move the brand-affinity needle for potential in-and out-of-state students. This brand affinity boost will make it easier for UM to reach enrollment goals with continued campaign activation.