Top Ten

September 28, 2008

"Colossal U" Recruits Aggressively in Toronto

Who says negative advertising only works for politicians? Using blatant reverse psychology, student recruiters at newly-minted Algoma University, in Sault Ste Marie Ontario, are underscoring the benefits of their intimate and nurturing campus by promoting a fictional straw man, "Colossal University." The strategy is clearly aimed at GTA students, who are likely considering uToronto, York, and Ryerson -- and perhaps large out-of-town universities as well.

"Colossal U" Posters

Posters and transit advertising for CU ironically proclaim its virtues. Above a photo of a cookie-cutter is the headline, "Every Colossal U student will turn out exactly the same. We guarantee it." Above a deli counter number dispenser is the headline, "Student 237, your teacher will see you now."

"Colossal U" OUF Exhibit

At the 2008 Ontario Universities' Fair, the smallest "booth" was a portion of Algoma U's floorspace devoted to "Colossal U," featuring a standing-room-only crowd of black-clad mannequin "students" sinking into the concrete floor, before a lecturing TV set. Whether or not it got the students talking, I know for a fact it had the other university exhibitors in a buzz.

The campaign is all intended to drive prospective students to the microsite,, which opens with amusing copy like: "At Colossal University, we believe in the greatness of numbers. Why be a name, when it's so much easier to be a number?" "Our administrative staff is very busy. So get ready to wait, because they'll help you when they're good and ready." Top-level site navigation points to menu items for "Current Sheep," "Prospective Sheep," "Shepherds," and "Mutton." Then the Algoma U "tour guide" kicks the content of the website aside dismissively, and invites the viewer to watch 11 video testimonials by Algoma U professors and students.

"Colossal U" Website

Deborah Loosemore, Director of Advancement at AlgomaU, reports that the posters and transit advertising started appearing throughout Toronto in mid-September 2008, and will run until sometime in November. The campaign also includes ads on Pizza Pizza's in-store digital signage network, and streaming video banners on social networking sites.

Obviously, the campaign was inspired by the award-winning "Humungous Bank" campaign developed by Palmer-Jarvis Communications for BC-based Richmond Savings way back in 1997 (when the target audience was 7 years old!). The CU campaign looks more hastily assembled -- there are some typos on the website, the logo and graphic design are hardly convincing, and the humour isn't quite as funny as Humungous Bank's ads -- but the approach is certainly daring.

Unlike the "Yale Shmale" campaign launched two years ago by that other university in Northern Ontario, Lakehead U, the CU campaign hasn't garnered any media attention in its first two weeks. A Google search finds only a single Digg post. Then again, we didn't notice it either until we saw the sinking body parts at the OUF. Perhaps the strategy will pay off for Algoma soon enough. Certainly they'll be monitoring website traffic to find out!


Postscript: Oct 2, 2008

This week, Marketing Magazine covered two new student recruitment campaigns we mentioned earlier: the Algoma U "Colossal University" campaign, and the Lakehead U "I will think for myself" campaign. Marketing on Algoma | Marketing on Lakehead