Khaled Hal Saad

The new academic year ushered in fresh marketing campaigns for student initiatives aimed at captive freshmen and the rest of us. There are drives to go greek, join campus clubs and other well-meaning organizations. A disturbing trend among many of these drives is the lack of creativity in building a unique message.

We students are having difficulty shaking the dominance of corporate marketing messages in our university. We should aspire for a university that provides intellectual and creative inspiration… but boy does it fall short.

Not only does this university promote the corporate agenda with Pepsi logos everywhere and a near shopping mall in the University Union, we students tend to exacerbate the problem. All of us have a zeal for mimicking corporate tag lines. T-shirts and posters mimicking corporate brands are hard to miss: “iLeader,” “Alpha Phi’s Secret,” “Polyweiser,” and those ubiquitous MasterCard “priceless” imitations.

One year the Cal Poly WOW T-shirt was emblazoned with “The SLO and the Furious.” I couldn’t help but do the same with a Web site I named “HotBraille” to piggyback on the name recognition of Hotmail.

All of us don’t intend to promote the brand we are mimicking, but rather piggyback on its success. Companies do this all the time: “official sponsor of the NFL,” “Microsoft certified partner,” etc. But students? Aren’t we the future marketing executives, graphic designers and brand managers? It seems we aren’t up for the challenge to create something new or at least something minimally distinct. Of course, we’ve seen some creative efforts (hats off to the CPSalsa campaign), but more often than not you’ll notice the work of a marketing executive and not that of a student.

Some might respond by saying that today’s brands are part of our culture and it’s one of the few things that we all relate to. That’s true (and unfortunate), but you’ve got to consider that at the origin these ads were created to push an agenda and drive sales, not to create a “culture.” Even worse is that it is a marketer’s tactic to create a campaign that is mimicked by people. The success of an ad campaign is often measured in how much that campaign enters popular culture. Jeff Goodby, creator of the “Got Milk?” tag line, said of his creation: “What also made it popular was that other people could rip off the phrase for their own purposes.” In fact, one of the ways the advertising industry doles out awards is based on the uptake by society of the ad campaign.

It’s been said that Beethoven avoided listening to Mozart because he was worried it would impede on his creative abilities. His strategy seemed to have paid off handsomely, and we can all learn a lesson from his example.

Khaled Hal Saad is a computer science senior and Mustang Daily columnist

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