The challenge: Encouraging students to connect with the institutional campaign.

After unveiling a new brand for its institutional reputation marketing, the University of Manitoba turned its attention to leveraging the Trailblazer positioning to recruit students. The Trailblazer brand was founded in the notion that Manitoba’s harsh winters and remote location fostered a specific character in those who chose to study and work at its university. Words like trailblazers, visionaries and rebels were used to portray the university’s community.

We knew students would be reluctant to accept labels that were applied to them. So, instead of painting students with a single brush, we invited them to define themselves within the campaign through a unique experiential opportunity.

The solution: Invite students to create branded content for a chance to see signature research up close.

The study of climate change in the Arctic, human rights, and infectious diseases (especially HIV/AIDS) are among the U of M’s signature research areas. And while the university enjoys national and global renown for work in these areas, students outside of these specific fields don’t have much exposure to them. Part of the reason for this was the work in these areas is often done in other parts of the world.

Because the university’s reputation campaign was so deeply rooted in its research pillars, it was important to get all students to regard these areas as a source of pride and affinity. We recognized this as a potential opportunity: let students witness the world-class innovation driven by their university, firsthand.

University of Manitoba: Trailblazer Recruitment – Phase 1
University of Manitoba: Trailblazer Recruitment – Phase 1
University of Manitoba: Trailblazer Recruitment – Phase 1

Using the Trailblazer motif, we developed a campaign that drove to an online contest. Students were invited to identify with the theme by using the portraits of young people in the campaign who self-declared themselves as trailblazers, discoverers, mavericks, etc. 

University of Manitoba: Trailblazer Recruitment – Phase 1
University of Manitoba: Trailblazer Recruitment – Phase 1
University of Manitoba: Trailblazer Recruitment – Phase 1

The call to action for the campaign drove to a contest page on the university’s Facebook account. Students were invited to upload a video of themselves using one of the campaign ‘power words’ to describe themselves, and explain why they chose that word. This challenged participants to ask themselves, ‘who can this university help me become?‘ as opposed to, ‘what can I study?‘ 

Weekly prizes were awarded to encourage ongoing submissions, with one student to win a grand prize – a choice of one of three University of Manitoba research-related trips abroad:

  • Travel to the Arctic with the university’s climate change research team
  • Visit to the United Nations in New York with human rights researchers at the university
  • See HIV/AIDS prevention work in India with the members of the university’s Centre for Global Public Health
University of Manitoba: Trailblazer Recruitment – Phase 1

Following the promotional period, the U of M invited students to an event on campus to screen the submitted video content (which was also shared through the university’s social channels), and to announce the contest winner. 

The grand prize winner selected the trip to the Arctic, citing the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see this part of the world – and living up to her self-identification as an Explorer.

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