Over its lifespan, the University of Manitoba’s Trailblazer brand expression was recognized by industry peers, emulated by competing institutions, and embraced by faculties and stakeholders within the university. But as the campaign evolved, so too did the university. And, following more than a seven-year run with the award-winning brand positioning, the university turned to ED to imagine its next creative platform.

What they told us: We’re perfectly positioned to make a global impact on issues that matter.

Discovery: Identifying key insights.

To ensure that this far-reaching initiative could be effectively managed, ED worked closely with the university’s Marketing Communications Office to establish a project roadmap, outlining an 18-month work plan from discovery and consultation, through to the first stage of implementation. The roadmap took into account the potential for a refresh of the university’s visual identity, which was an anticipated but unconfirmed deliverable at the outset of the process.

7,000+ community members consulted

ED designed a stakeholder consultation program that would go on to reach approximately 7,000 community members. A series of online surveys were deployed by the university to existing mailing lists and promoted through internal communications; several small and large group discussion sessions were held to gain qualitative insights into the university from variety of perspectives. These sessions (moderated by ED) took place in a number of Manitoba communities, and in several urban markets across Canada with a high concentration of ex-pat U of M alumni. The process took 11 months to complete, with the majority of the consultation concentrated in the final three-month period.

University of Manitoba “Collision”
Word cloud reflecting community feedback (top 10 responses highlighted)
University of Manitoba “Collision”
ED-facilitated consultation session (image courtesy of University of Manitoba)

Following the consultation, ED presented our findings and key insights to the university’s Brand Advisory Council, a 25+ person working group with administrative, academic, alumni, and student representation. We distilled the findings into nine key insights that would inform the strategic and creative exploration.

Strategy: Elevating opportunities to differentiate.

In a broad consultative process, not all insights lend themselves to the creative brand expression. So, following the advisory council’s review, ED’s team critically evaluated which of the key insights from discovery held the most potential to inspire an authentic creative platform. And of the nine, three became our focus:

  • Signature areas of research: These include exceptional and globally renowned work on climate change, global population health, infectious diseases, and human rights.
  • A pivotal role in reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples: Acknowledging the institution’s strategic commitments, and its location – a city with Canada’s largest urban concentration of Indigenous Peoples.
  • An undisputed record of leadership: Both in-province, where professional fields disproportionately rely on U of M grads; to boasting the largest number of Rhodes Scholars of any Western Canadian university.

Considered together, these three insights led us to a strategic premise – that the areas on which the University of Manitoba leads are among those that matter most to Canadians. 

We validated this premise through a range of external research that showed leadership development, reconciliation, climate change, diseases, and human rights were the leading, or among the leading, concerns for the majority of Canadians. This external research also indicated a global perspective that Canada does, or should, be a leader in these areas. This presented an opportunity to leverage Canada’s global identity into the U of M’s brand – and a sector scan confirmed that no other Canadian university was positioning itself on the country’s quintessential reputation.

What we saw: A Canadian university leading on global issues – the world’s northern light.

This led our creative team to explore how to express this notion of Canadian idealism – a nation renowned for being on the right side of the pursuit with respect to the world’s most important issues. In our exploration, we discussed a natural phenomenon that is often associated with Canada, and especially with the north-most part of the province the University of Manitoba calls home.

The aurora borealis are a spectacle that attracts people from across the world to northern Manitoba; and in many Indigenous cultures, they hold a spiritual significance. We used the northern lights as a symbol to inspire our exploration – that the work being done at a university in the middle of North America was attracting attention from, and serving as a beacon for a global academic and research audience.

University of Manitoba “Collision”

The northern lights themselves are a result of the collision of particles in the earth’s atmosphere – a process that directly inspired our creative interpretation for the brand expression for the University of Manitoba. The university’s leadership in these areas of global and national importance were the result of a collision of ideas, perspectives, cultures, and individuals. We reflected this impact in a burst graphic that used the university’s updated colour palette to create a striking device for visual storytelling – one that was evocative of the hues evident in the northern lights.

University of Manitoba “Collision”
University of Manitoba “Collision”
University of Manitoba “Collision”
Designed by University of Manitoba
University of Manitoba “Collision”

In messaging, we set out to connect with audiences on a personal level. We developed a convention that centres on what any individual – a student, and alumna, a professor – brings to the university, and what their contribution can result in when it collides with the ideas and ideals of others. The branded approach is anchored by an institutional tagline that links each individual to the U of M’s catalytic influence on issues of global significance: What inspires you can change everything.

The first campaign: Celebrating a Nobel Prize recipient.

ED was given an incredible opportunity to launch the new creative approach to the world, when Dr. James Peebles (professor emeritus at Harvard University and a U of M alumnus) became the first university’s first Nobel Laureate. Working closely with the university, we deployed a congratulatory campaign that included a national print insertion, and an airport installation at the James Richardson International Airport. 

University of Manitoba “Collision”
University of Manitoba “Collision”
University of Manitoba “Collision”
University of Manitoba “Collision”

The main headline referenced the results of Peeble’s career-long curiosity with the cosmos: Fascination unravels mysteries. And, as Manitoba’s university, it was fitting that the university’s new brand was unveiled in celebration of one of the province’s own.


The first iteration of the newly-developed brand platform for the University of Manitoba was unveiled in tandem with a broader communications initiative, to congratulate Nobel Laureate James Peebles. The integrated campaign, featuring the look and feel developed by ED, was recognized with a Circle of Excellence Award by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education – District VIII.