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Drake brands itself as a D+

Jenna Johnson

Log onto Drake University's admissions site and -- bam -- you are greeted by a giant blue D+.

This week officials at the Des Moines college have had to explain over and over exactly what the D+ means. As you could imagine, lots of people do not appreciate the brilliance of this marketing strategy.

DrakeD.jpgThe overall message: D+ DOES NOT MEAN DRAKE IS A NEARLY FAILING COLLEGE.

Okay, so what does it mean?

There's the explanation on the Web site: "When we talk about D+, that's what we mean. Every moment at Drake is one that has the power to educate, to transform, to open minds and to unleash potential -- to introduce who you are, to who you hope to become."

There's the explanation two top Drake officials gave faculty and staff in an e-mail Tuesday morning, according to the Awl: "Our experience ... suggests that the kind of students whom we want to attract to Drake easily understand and appreciate the irony of the D+."

There's also the explanation the vice president for admissions gave the Des Moines Register: "We knew people would have some fun with it. We knew there would be Facebook chatter or Twitter chatter. The idea was to drive more people to our Web site or the view books themselves or the other publications to find more information about Drake."

Despite all of these of these explanations, people are unmercifully making fun of the Bulldogs.

A blog entry about the campaign on Adweek was titled, "Drake University's ad campaign gets big D+."

Drake journalism student Matt Vasilogambros wrote an article about the campaign for the Huffington Post and quoted a few students, including senior Josie Berg-Hammond:

"It just seems that there are so many other ways at promoting the school with funnier slogans that are eye-catching, without something that seems too obviously related to the grade D+, which is kind of like a joke of a grade," Berg-Hammond said.

The meanest critiques came from freelance writer Katjusa Cisar in a column for the Awl:

The marketing team that dreamed up Drake University's latest campaign, "The D+ Advantage," got so carried away by an apparent allusion to positively charged molecules that it thought it could either ignore or, alternately, capitalize on one obvious fact: the logo is the grade for pathetically under-average schoolwork, a D-plus.

What do you think? Do you give this branding campaign a passing grade?

Campus Overload is a daily must-read for all college students. Make sure to bookmark washingtonpost.com/campus-overload. You can also follow me on Twitter and fan Campus Overload on Facebook.

By Jenna Johnson  |  September 2, 2010; 6:40 PM ET
Categories:  Admissions  | Tags: Drake D+, Drake University  
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Comments

Well, it's not a bad campaign, if it generates all this free publicity, is it?

But I am curious how prospective students view it.

Posted by: crazyface50 | September 2, 2010 9:26 PM | Report abuse

How about:

"Drake University - We're That School that Hosts The Beautiful Bulldog Contest Every April"

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | September 2, 2010 11:38 PM | Report abuse

"We aim high: D+ for undergrads, C- for our grad students. Go-o-o-o Drake!"

Posted by: egb3 | September 3, 2010 2:33 AM | Report abuse

It's real easy (and obvious) to take low-standards pot-shots at a campaign that leads with "D+" (being recognizable as a low grade IS what sets up the irony, regardless of what spokespeople are saying), but do intelligent people really stumble on that when paired with a university with a well-known academic reputation—which Drake must have?

I'm sure Drake and their agency are absolutely loving all the attention this campaign is drawing (and I suspect success it's having). Just because the market is higher education, doesn't mean the marketing has to be boring.

This campaign is garnering all kinds of attention (and polarized opinions), when at it's core, it's all about SUPERIOR academics. Kudos to Drake, above all, for having the strength to stand out. And as for all the uneducated comments, keep them coming—it only makes the campaign stronger.

Posted by: cElroy | September 3, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

As a Drake alumna, I thought it was meant to be ironic. It is impossible to earn a single plus or minus grade at Drake. Drake grades solely on the letter - student earns an A, they get an A, no such thing as an A+ or an A-, and so on.

Posted by: the13ers | September 3, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

I find it interesting that people are having a hard time getting past the literal "D+." Obviously, a reputable university is not going to unabashedly target nearly failing students. That's why it's funny and intriguing. Plus, when qualified applicants get mailings from 20-30 colleges/universities a year, this one will get their attention. Kudos to Drake for taking a risk and doing something a) that targets students who will get the irony and b) stands out from among all the other universities claiming something boring like a "legacy of excellence" or "here, you're not just a number." Nice work all.

Posted by: kyndracwilson | September 3, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

As a communications professional (and proud 2005 graduate of Drake), I deal every day with breaking through the chatter and noise that has become the reality of our lives. People (including perspective students and alumni of a University) are constantly bombarded with messages from myriad sources and delivering a message that sticks takes some real creativity, which is just what Drake has done here.

While the planners of the D+ campaign may have initially been focused on sharing the story of how “Every moment at Drake is one that has the power to educate, to transform, to open minds and to unleash potential—to introduce who you are, to who you hope to become,” what an unexpected coup has occurred! Drake students (and thus, ideal perspective students) are curious, inquisitive people and kudos to the University for having faith in their ability to investigate a little bit and realize the deeper meaning. The tremendous publicity gained is icing on the cake.

Because of the D+ campaign, I believe this is one of the few times that the Drake University brand has been talked about on WashingtonPost.com. This despite the University sending dozens of undergraduates to beltway internships each year and the numerous bulldog alumni that have built successful careers in the nation’s capital. Thanks, WashingtonPost.com, for the free PR and for helping to share our brand with a broad, national audience.

If criticism of the D+ campaign helps various news outlets attract readers, then please continue that criticism, because attracting readers means more exposure to the Drake University brand. Furthermore, I’m confident that the kind of students attracted to Drake will easily understand and appreciate the irony of the D+ campaign and how it ties to the real Drake experience.

Posted by: tylermarciniak | September 3, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

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