The Arizona Desert Lamp

You stay World-Classy, Arizona!

Posted in Campus, Media by Connor Mendenhall on 25 September 2008

Great news! The University of Arizona’s marketing department is packing up the phrase “Arizona’s First University” and sending it off to the special section of Hell reserved for banal nonsense and communications majors. From the Arizona Daily Star :

While campus officials haven’t lost their sense of history, the UA’s “Arizona’s First University” slogan has become an artifact of the past.

As brand management becomes an integral part of the University of Arizona’s marketing strategies, officials have tweaked the campus wide calling card to “Arizona’s World-Class University” in an attempt to reflect the institution’s academic and research prowess. Rather than holding a formal kickoff for the new phrase, officials will begin to replace old signs and update marketing materials in the coming weeks.

Forgive me a smug moment of triumph: I suggested scuttling our slogan last year, since the phrase was nothing more than empty adspeak. Regrettably, the new one is even worse.

“Arizona’s First University” was stupid, but at least it was a coherent statement, like “Arizona’s largest campus arboretum” or “Arizona’s most useless fact.” What it lacked was any expression of aspiration. But “Arizona’s World-Class University” trades a flat fact for a dumb idiom. Just what is “world-class” supposed to mean? Commonly understood, the term describes “persons or things regarded as outstanding throughout the world.” For example, the entire higher-education system of the United States, far and away the best on Earth. We’re already “world-class”—it’s “United States-class” and “Arizona-class” that need improvement!

I’m not the only one who’s less than enthused. The Star article goes on to quote Terri Shafer, an Arizona State marketing apparatchik:

“Making ‘world-class’ your primary marketing claim would earn you an F in Marketing 101,” she wrote. “There are literally hundreds of colleges and universities that say they’re world-class. It’s a meaningless term with no accepted measurement standard.”

Shafer said ASU doesn’t have a single tag line and uses several themes and messages to convey what officials there call their mission as a “New American University.”

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—”New American University” is an excellent, succinct turn of phrase for Michael Crow’s vision of ASU as academic Leviathan (not that I think it’s necessarilly a good vision). A meaningful slogan requires a meaningful mission, but as far as I can tell, UA’s biggest official ambition is, as President Shelton recently so eloquently put it, to “continue the dialog that began last May regarding the current budget dynamic and our strategic aspiration to be among the ten best public research universities in the nation.” Inspiring. Sure, all our focus may be on thinning the herd of late—but why, oh why can’t we do it with some vision?

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  1. […] and Service that are World-Class, World-Wide, Real-Time and Relevant.” Can we get another slogan referendum? I’m thinking something along the lines of, “Now with 30 percent less […]


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