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UMass ‘branding’ project to give school a new reputation

“Top producer of Fulbright students.”  “Among the top twenty public universities in the United States.” “[One] among the top public National Universities.” Sounds like the University of Massachusetts in Amherst? Sure, it does. 

The Chronicle of Higher Education, Newsweek International and U.S. News and World Report all rank UMass highly among other public universities. UMass slowly but steadily makes its way into the headlines; the university and the surrounding area have recently received generous media attention.

The university’s homepage often boasts of new and incredible distinctions. MSN.com and Hotels and Travel Reservations site recognized Amherst as one of the best college towns in America. UMass enjoys a favorable public opinion, and thus far it would seem like the attention that the university is getting is positive.

But students are well aware of another, less glamorous reputation of their campus. No need to name names or point fingers. Yet nearly every incoming freshman has a story to tell of the rowdy atmosphere witnessed on the campus; such rumors spread like wildfire and have a much more prevailing effect than the tabloids.

The desire to sustain positive newsworthiness of the campus drives Chancellor Robert Holub’s intention for the “SMART Branding Initiative.” According to a released, “based on extensive research on the public perceptions of UMass Amherst,” said Holub, “themes were created that address misconceptions about the campus and emphasize institutional strengths.”

The competition for future students is fierce. As a public research institution, UMass competes with private ones, such as Boston University or Harvard. That is why public perception is crucially important. Aside from future alumni, fiscal resources also depend upon the university’s stance in the public sphere. 

The “SMART Branding Initiative” includes the creation of a new image for UMass. This process is entitled “branding,” but not in the familiar sense of the word. The University Relations homepage provides a specific definition, citing that “branding” is the process during which UMass will be presented to the public within a consistent set of settings, both visual and verbal, in order to change the public’s perception of the university. “Branding” is “not a logo,” but a procedure that is only complete when the faculty, students and even future alumni acquire “the same association and image” upon hearing the words “the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.”

A part of this on-going project calls for the direct participation of the students. A video contest, the announcement of which has adorned the UMass Amherst homepage since Feb.1, is currently underway. 

The basic guidelines are simple. The video must be one to three minutes in length and provide a “unique insight into the life on campus,” incorporating the themes of “intelligence, inspiration and imagination.” All current undergraduate and graduate students are encouraged to participate; individual and group submissions are also accepted. Students are to send their mini Blockbusters to the University Relations at 390 Whitmore Administration Building by 4 p.m. on the March 1 deadline. More information and other details about the contest may be found at www.umass.edu/umhome/videocontest/. 

Winning videos will be announced in March, and the video will be featured on the UMass website, YouTube and other promotional materials.

Aside from fame, one must not overlook another equally appealing aspect of the contest: money. Cash prizes vary from $500 for first place, $300 for second place and $150 for third place.

Providing financial compensation is an effective way to ensure student participation, because college students are always on the lookout for more cash. But is the clinging of coins an appropriate call to arms?  Why does it take a profit-promising contest in order for the students to consider changing the public’s opinion of their school? Why has UMass’ reputation remained imperfect for so long? 

When one disregards the sea of maroon that floods the campus, when the proud cries “Go UMass” quiet down, one is able to understand that UMass deserves a better public opinion. 

The contest winning video will be an expression of a “distinct student voice,” though one may wonder whether that voice is made louder by the expected prize. One may only hope that this is not the sole reason for student participation.

So get out your camera phones, your iPod nano cameras, or any other video recording device, and go forth and produce that promotional video that will make everyone proud to attend the UMass Amherst. 

Yevgeniya Lomakina is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at ylomakin@student.umass.edu.

Comments
3 Responses to “UMass ‘branding’ project to give school a new reputation”
  1. Dylan says:

    Sounds like Big Brother to me. Film and the media have always been used to manipulate the very impressionable public; think of Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi masterpiece “Triump of the Will,” or Sergei Eisenstein’s homage to the Bolshevik Revolution, “October.” The latter film was claimed for some 20 years after by Stalin and his comrades as genuine footage of the revolution.
    Perhaps Chancellor Holub’s “Smart Branding Initiative” will stack up with these great fascist and communist oeuvres someday. Who knows?

  2. Steve says:

    Hey Dylan, not every video contest has to be deconstructed like some sort of STPEC project. By the way, I enjoyed your paper “Race, Class, and Gender Identity in Ancient Egypt’s Middle Kingdom from a Marxist/Feminist Perspective”.

    On a serious note, why does everything have to be “UMass-Amherst”? Can’t we just be UMass without a hyphen?

  3. ktabz says:

    how about we brand ourselves as UMass, not UMass-Amherst. We are the flagship, we don’t need to associate ourselves with UMass-Lowell, UMass-Boston, and UMass-Dartmouth. We are the flagship, we are UMass or the University of Massachusetts. You don’t see other state flagship schools going around with hyphens. It’s not Michigan-Ann Arbor or UConn-Storrs. We do not have a system of equal schools a la the SUNY system or the California system (where the flagship is known as Cal in many circles, not UC-Berkeley).

    We are UMies, not UM-Aies.

    Case in point, I was talking to a high school junior from Massachusetts. I told him my alma mater was UMass and he asked me “which one?” That should never happen if the university chose to brand itself correctly and with any thought at all.

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