The 53-foot semitrailers you see on the road do more than just
cruise the highways, unload goods, and hit the rest stops. They also
serve as an important advertising medium–one that can reach a broad,
diverse audience, 24/7. In fact, food and beverage companies have been
advertising via trucking for decades. But, higher ed hawking on semis?
Administrators at the University of Nebraska seem to think the time is
right to hop on board. The 46,000-student institution just shelled out
$36,000 for a new marketing campaign in which five semitrailers, each
bearing one or more promotional slogans for the university, will roll
across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico over the next eight years. The
trucks were donated by Crete Carrier (www.cretecarrier.com); the trailer
maker Wabash National (www.wabashnational.com) applied the vinyl at no
charge; and the University of Nebraska Foundation subsidized the
campaign’s production and design costs. The semis transport
household goods and sport three ads in total (some trailers feature the
same ad on both sides; others carry two different ads), according to Sharon Stephan, marketing director for the university. The
campaign’s theme, Pioneering New Frontiers, includes the slogans
“Pioneering personal frontiers,” “Pioneering new
frontiers in cancer research,” and “Pioneering new frontiers
“The slogans are part of an umbrella campaign designed to
supplement the other measures we’re taking to increase
awareness,” Stephan says. “We’ll begin to layer the
promotion by pitching stories to the media about, for instance, a
breakthrough in cancer research.” The effort is designed to build
the university’s academic reputation over time, she says. But with
only about 13 percent of the university’s undergrads and about 30
percent of its grad students out-of-state residents, “there is also
a mandate for aggressive out-of-state recruiting over the next five
years,” she adds.
And the university hopes to reach alumni with the campaign.
“We want them to stay connected to the university,” Stephan
explains. “We want them to see the trucks and think ‘Wow!
That’s my university behind that campaign: “
* The images and messages ore simple and memorable–all-important,
considering the “drive-by” nature of the campaign.
* The truck ads ore eye-catching and visually distinctive–well
shot, with bright and exciting attention-grabbing colors. “They
will likely be the most attractive trucks on the road.”
* All truck ads reflect the distinctive University of Nebraska
logotype, which makes for good university branding.
* The artwork clearly conveys the university’s academic
offerings. The cancer research and technology slogans immediately
identify the school’s involvement in biotechnology and computer
sciences. “Pioneering personal frontiers” portrays the
university’s commitment to diversity of student body and
* All text is easy to read due to strong color choices and
* The artwork supports the campaign’s purpose. The use of a
background that invokes a sense of sky and atmosphere fits well with the
theme of “pioneering new frontiers.”
* The trucks ore likely to attract media coverage and compel
journalists to write about them. Smart University of Nebraska PR
staffers are ensuring coverage by contacting targeted media.
* The ads bring awareness of the university to students and parents
who may not have heard of it, or considered it an option.
* The three ads reinforce and reprise each other. The banners are
effective not only individually but also as a series. Several sightings could have excellent reinforcement value.
* Ads could use more action photos. The people images, though
smiley, are a bit posed. A more candid approach would help.
* The ads” diversity seems a bit forced, while at the same
time exclusionary. No Asian Americans appear in the ads, which could
reduce campaign effectiveness in certain cities.
* The ads offer no sense of campus. Prospective students are
interested in seeing pictures of the university’s campus, since
this is where they’ll be spending most of their time.
* The university name fades into the background. The contrast is
strongest with the white-on-blue print. The dark print drowns out the
“University of” and all that is discernible is
* The cancer research and technology ads are too specific. What
about students who are not interested in those fields? They might be
turned off to the promotion of even develop an aversion to the school
because of the ads’ specificity.
* The audience of the ads is unclear. Most students pursuing an
undergraduate degree will most likely not be pioneering new frontiers in
cancer research or technology, so who ore these ads for?
* The ads ore sophisticated and a bit intimidating. Despite their
attractiveness, the acts do not seem to have much appeal for young,
prospective students, especially those who have not figured out their
career plans, let alone major of study.
* Basic information about the school is not included, such as class
size, value, university resources–information that college-bound
students and their parents want to know.
* Where is the school’s URL of contact information? The fact
that neither the school’s Web site nor general phone number is
included in the ads is careless, and could hurt the campaign.
Prospective students who see the ad and are interested in getting more
information, have no apparent means to do so.
* How will the effectiveness of this campaign be measured? How many
people will see these trucks? Will the university’s target audience
see the trucks? Is there any way to know if other display methods (such
as billboards) are more effective?
* Add some action shots. Fewer vertical and formal poses and more
of a sense of captured action could bring more life to the ads.
* After balance of diversity. Include minorities such as Asian
Americans in addition to the African Americans in the ads.
* Keeps ads general. Instead of focusing on specifics (such as
cancer research and technology), use more ads like the “Personal
Frontiers” banner, to appeal to a wider range of prospective
* Include contact information. There should be some mention of the
university’s Web site or a general telephone number, so that
prospective students can easily get in touch with the school
* Include the university’s trademark red, the color many
associate with Nebraska’s legendary football team. This could be a
valuable asset for the school and it’s a shame not to include red
in some manner.
* Enlarge the name of the university, and distinguish it from the
rest of the ad type.
* Increase the size of the people, including the props around them.
They may be too small to have an impact on a drive-by if the ads ate
being spied in the midst of traffic and between buildings.
* Research demographics before launching the promotion. Did the
marketing folks find out what kinds of people are driving the highways
on which the trucks will be traveling? Do they know what percentage of
those drivers may be: college educated? Prospective students or alumni?
Already familiar with the University of Nebraska? They’ll need to
evaluate such criteria to determine if the campaign is successful
* Are trucks really an effective way to promote out-of-state
enrollment? There ore many more economical and effective means of
attracting out-of-state students. Some include advertising in regional
issues of magazines read by the university’s target audience,
hosting recruiting nights before or after an out-of-state football game,
or attending regional college fairs.
CAMPAIGN EVALUATION PANEL
Dr. Edward Klein is the parent of a college junior.
Keith Moore is principal of Keith Moore Associates
(keithmooreassociates.com), a marketing and communications consultancy
specializing in higher education.
Rosita Fernandez-Rojo is a guidance counselor at Choate Rosemary
Sara Lindholm is a senior at Guilderland High School (NY).