University of Manitoba

Can you blaze a trail, twice?

Trailblazer Campaign – Phase 2

Moving away from metaphor.

ED’s 2011 Trailblazer” campaign for the University of Manitoba was, by all measures, a success. A key source of the campaign’s strength was its departure from the way universities usually represent themselves. Instead of shiny, happy faces of students, researchers and faculty, the “Trailblazer” campaign featured elementary school-aged children to represent the intangible spirit of the type of people who are attracted to Manitoba’s university – known mostly for its remoteness and harsh winters.

It was inevitable that an iteration of the campaign would need to feature real professors and researchers from the university. Their individual accomplishments are not only bonafides for the university’s external reputation, but also a source of pride for peers in the institution and across the industry.

Our challenge for the second phase of this multi-year campaign was to integrate these real stories into what had been a metaphorical platform. We needed to preserve the distinctiveness of the original campaign.

Even when featuring a typical subject in a university ad, there’s an opportunity to be anything but typical.

What they told us: Evolve, but don’t reinvent.

The direction, ‘evolve a campaign in order to keep it fresh,’ is inevitable and deceptively tricky because it constrains creative exploration from the outset. But this was the challenge for the second phase of the “Trailblazer” campaign. Thanks to the internal momentum from the first phase, it was necessary to maintain what the university and its audiences had embraced.

To build from, rather than to rebuild.

What we saw: Child-like wonder leads to lifelong dedication.

We began by establishing a strong understanding of the subjects who would be featured in the campaign. We reviewed published articles and had conversations to probe deeper into their areas of expertise. As our consultation progressed, we noticed that every person featured in the campaign had a genuine passion for their work – a passion that started at a formative age.

This insight provided an entry point for our updated campaign. Simply replacing the child subject in the previous ads wasn’t enough of an evolution: headlines like “I am a rebel” weren’t authentic or surprising beside an image of a middle-aged adult. Instead, we juxtaposed those adult images with a dissonant statement: “I am nine years old.” We fulfilled audience’s curiosity with profiles of professional accomplishment, describing how what began as a child-like fascination became a life-long dedication to discovery.  

In addition to national print, we pioneered the first pillar installations at James A. Richardson International Airport in Winnipeg. Travellers arriving at the baggage claim area were greeted by four 10’ columns, each wrapped in creative featuring a professor or researcher from the U of M community.

Recognition from the industry.

Adding to the previous phase’s award-winning record, phase 2 of the “Trailblazer” campaign received a prestigious CASSIES Award (now called Effie Awards) for Long-Term Success.

The awards program is squarely focused on results: participants must prove the effect their advertising has had on driving business objectives. The effectiveness of the U of M’s campaign was recognized alongside national brands like Westjet and Molson, and the win was the first for a Manitoba-based advertising agency in the awards’ multi-year history.

Impact within the university.

The campaign – and especially its airport installation – also built immeasurable pride among the university community. For example, one Dean at the university told us that when he arrived at the Winnipeg airport for his interview with the university, he was immediately moved by the way the U of M celebrated its people – an impression that factored into his decision to accept the position. 

The Trailblazer brand has changed how we think about ourselves, how we speak about ourselves, and most importantly, how we act. It’s challenged us to go beyond the expected and has made a huge contribution to our success.
John Kearsey, Fmr. VP External, University of Manitoba

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