A new value proposition for past graduates.

By 2014, ED’s award-winning Trailblazer” campaign for the University of Manitoba had already evolved once, and had been adapted for recruitment purposes. After several successful years in market, there was a desire to adapt the campaign again to avoid fatigue, and to introduce U of M alumni in the creative approach.

The decision to feature alumni coincided with the launch of the silent phase of the university’s major capital campaign, Front and Centre. For its final iteration, “Trailblazer” needed to serve a dual purpose: maintain the momentum of awareness and reputation building, while setting the stage for a philanthropic appeal to the community – and especially alumni donors.

Focusing on alumni achievement in this third phase was an obvious win, but it presented a unique hurdle. The alumni who would be featured had all graduated prior to the “Trailblazer” campaign. Opinion research showed alumni perceptions had improved since the introduction of the campaign, but self-referencing as trailblazers, visionaries, rebels and innovators was relatively unfamiliar for an audience who were years-removed from their time at the university. 

What they told us: Alumni prove our institution’s worth.

We needed to demonstrate that our outstanding alumni have always exhibited the same spirit and resolve, long before the campaign existed. As graduates who had gone on to professional accomplishments, they had a unique asset to leverage into the campaign: experience.

Where previous iterations of the campaign focused on a spirit and character borne from Manitoba’s environment, the third phase shifted the focus to action. We celebrated alumni for what they’d achieved, and the resolve, tenacity and perseverance required to reach their goals. These attributes were the inspiration for our campaign’s collection of ‘power words’, and paired with alumni accomplishments in business, the arts, athletics, medicine, architecture – and more – these alumni stories served as proofpoints to the campaign’s claims.

What we saw: An opportunity to shift focus from inspiration to action.

University of Manitoba Trailblazer – Phase 3
University of Manitoba Trailblazer – Phase 3

Visually, the third phase continued the campaign’s ongoing evolution by introducing colour into what had been a black-and-white photographic approach. Alumni were featured in a full colour foreground, set against a muted black and white backdrop, drawing audience’s focus to the subject. Each alumnus was captured in a mise-en-scène, emphasizing action in the static layouts.

University of Manitoba Trailblazer – Phase 3
University of Manitoba Trailblazer – Phase 3
University of Manitoba Trailblazer – Phase 3
University of Manitoba Trailblazer – Phase 3

Short, evocative lines echoed each participant’s unique story. Discover your voice, said the renowned opera singer from the Carnegie Hall stage. Find your focus, said the Olympic gold medalist before releasing a curling rock. Build your world, said the decorated architect as he obsessed over the details of a scale model. Each call-to-action line bridged the gap from alumni accomplishment to the campaign’s signature language with a simple, bold answer: Trailblazers, rebels and explorers “do”. 

Once again, national airport advertising was used to celebrate alumni, Canada-wide. Some alumni were selected based on their national profile (such as Olympian Jennifer Jones); others were selected based on their regional relevance (community activist Dr. Tito Daodu was featured in the Calgary airport, where she was completing her residency).

Extending into alumni engagement.

Even more than before, the campaign was repurposed for alumni engagement activity. Video stories were showcased at Homecoming reunion events, introducing speakers who were featured in the campaign. The “Trailblazers do” lexicon featured prominently at the university’s annual Distinguished Alumni Awards celebration. The phrase was used in the biographies for honorary degree recipients, celebrating their actions as evidence that they are ‘one of us’.

Repurposing for recruitment.

University of Manitoba Trailblazer – Phase 3
University of Manitoba Trailblazer – Phase 3

The campaign also lent itself to the local market, with a selection of alumni featured in digital and out-of-home advertising to drive recruitment. The diversity of study areas, coupled with the ‘local celebrity’ of alumni participants, appealed to prospective students with a new level of specificity.  

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,
VP External, University of Manitoba