Given my interest in narrative, I’m always on the lookout for effective or ineffective instances in the media. I look particularly at advertising because of its explicit mission of persuasion.
York University’s “this is my time” campaign – which I’ve now seen in print, on television, and on public transit – has definitely caught my attention. The basic story these ads tell is simple. They present a variety of York students stating their personal visions of the work they will be doing in a future year (2025, 2031, 2039, etc.). The visions are all intended to be innovative and societally focused. They also draw a link to the York program in which the student is now enrolled. They use real names and faces.
The recruitment message is that students at York are in programs that will help them do important and exciting things at the height of their careers. Somewhat paradoxically, “my time” doesn’t mean today or the day after graduation, but ten or fifteen or twenty years from now. The sell, of course, is for students to apply to York. If the sell is targeted, it is to the elite students who are especially innovative, the ones who want to design their own curriculum to support their own vision – the students that every university wants to recruit.
Contrast York’s ads with two standard tropes for student recruitment. One emphasizes the entry level jobs of its graduates, which is what government statistics normally track. Ads that feature entry-level jobs speak to personal ambition, while York’s ads speak to societal contribution. York’s are much more inspirational. The second trope highlights a university’s most successful alumni. These ads leave unanswered the question of precisely how an individual’s education thirty years ago contributed to the success she achieved later in life. York’s ads, by featuring current students and their visions looking forward, draw that link much more clearly.
York’s ads have won a number of awards for educational marketing. I think the awards are well-deserved. And they demonstrate to me, once again, the persuasive power of innovative story-telling.