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Legitimate College Advertising
From an Address at the Exercises in Commemoration of the Sixtieth Anniversary of the Founding
of lowa College, Grinnell, lowa, May 16-21, 1907
By Marco Morrow
afraid, suggests to many minds the home in developing national char-
acter and in shaping national interests, so persistent as to be offensive then it is not only the college's priviand obnoxious.
lege but its duty to go out into the And I suspect the very phrasing of
highways and byways and gather them the subject on which I, as an advertising
in; to be a missionary of a better, a man, have been asked to say a few
higher and a fuller life; to become a words, “Legitimate College Advertis
propagandist of real education and to ing," betrays somewhat the same atti
pursue its high calling with all the tude of mind towards this modern com
zealous fervor of a religious devotee. mercial factor.
And, gentlemen, I hope I shall not be Perhaps what your program commit
accused of special pleading or of that tee really had in mind is :
narrow prejudice which it is difficult “Can an institution of higher learn
for a specialist of any kind to avoid, ing legitimately, ethically and with all
when I say there is no way in which a due dignity, employ in advancing its in
college can do this so effectively and so terests, methods which are most usually associated with pink pills and circus
economically, as by employing in the
right way, judiciously and with dignity, parades?”
those means which the modern business The answer to this question, “Yes," or "No," depends as much upon the
world groups under the classification,
“ADVERTISING." attitude the college is to take towards life and the college's concept of its
In truth, there is no other way; befunction, as upon our understanding of
cause even in the technically commercial the nature of advertising.
use of the word “advertise," we embrace For, if the modern American college
every dictionary meaning of the term. stands solely for aristocracy of
Whatever in any way turns the minds brains, for Culture with a big “C," and
of the public towards a merchant, his a limited meaning; if its function is to
wares and his business, is considered admake scholars instead of
men and vertising. The business man's advertiswomen; if it teaches for teaching's sake ing account does not include merely the and imparts learning for learning's sake
moneys he spends for announcements in alone, its direct influence upon the life the public press or for the defacement of of its day must ever be limited, and it God's landscape, but in most cases it is can well afford to repose upon its dignity
charged with an hundred other items and in self-conscious superiority wait, whose object is to make known his busias a modest maid awaits her lover, to ness to the public. be wooed and won only by those in So the college, either by its own efforts whose hearts burn an overpowering de- or by its loving friends, does advertise, sire for her favors.
in most cases legitimately even if not But if, on the other hand, the Ameri- always most effectively, can college is what I believe every one But can the scope of its advertising of you men and women believe it should be legitimately increased? Is it desirbe--the interpreter of life to the rising able that it should be increased? To
what extent can straight commercial advertising be employed by colleges ?
I can see no reason why the advertising man should not approach this problem exactly as he approaches a commercial proposition. The modern advertising man--if he understands his business -is very wary of pronouncing the last word upon advertising. He knows no infallible rules. He will not say that any certain method of advertising is "best"-either in a general way or for a specific commodity, because he has learned—at the expense of years and dollars—that different men, different commodities, different classes of customers, different territories, all demand widely different methods of treatment, in order to effect the desired end.
In other words, the advertising man must diagnose the case before he prescribes treatment-and it not infrequently happens that he prescribes the "rest cure," rather than a dose of advertising.
I mean that I shall not attempt to say anything this afternoon which can be applied to the special needs of any special college—because each specific case requires special study. Nevertheless, there are certain fundamental principles which will guide us in determining whether or not a college can legitimately employ this modern force--and to what extent the force may be employed.
Primarily, and I think ultimately, the object of all college advertising should be this:
To give the public the right concept of the mission and function of the college.
On the one hand we have a very prevalent idea-an idea which I fear the higher institutions of learning have sometimes unwittingly encouraged-that Education is an end rather than means, and that therefore the boy who must equip himself for the hard knocks of the world's work can under only especially favorable circumstances afford “to waste" four years in the study of
Latin and Greek and Abstract Philosophy.
we find many selfmade men pointing with pride to their own material achievements, and saying to the college :
"No doubt but ye are the people and wisdom shall die with you. But I have understanding as well as you."
And understanding of a certain sort they have-and Education, too.
On the other hand we have an insistent demand for a more "practical” education-an education concerned with how rather than with why—an education that deals with the coming man's work, rather than with his life.
The American college has made certain concessions to this demand, and yet the strictly technical schools, the normal schools, the "correspondence colleges," and institutions which educate "while you wait,” spring up and flourish. However beneficial they may be under certain limitations, they can never take ihe place in our national life which the college should and must occupy, and it is the duty of the college to see to it that the young men and young women of America know what it is that the college offers them, and know that they cannot get it elsewhere. And the college itself must bring this knowledge to them.
This may be missionary work, pure and simple, but the college owes its first du!y to the community as a whole; the young men and the young women in your class-rooms are merely the maierials the people have given you to work withi.
Moreover, while educating the general public to a fuller appreciation of the function of the college may be missionary work, like the missionary spirit everywhere, it blesses him that gives more than him that receiveth. No method will do more to attract to your school earnest young manhood and womanhood-the material you desire.
But to be a little more concrete.
Most educational advertising today is Simple Publicity--the mere announcement of the school, its standing and its physical advantages.
Educational advertising that is strictly competitive, that is, which seeks to build up at the expense of another, can hardly fail to be more or less obnoxious to the real educator. It unquestionably does savor too much of the methods of the gentlemen with the pink pills.
But because Publicity Advertising is not fully effective, and because Competitive Advertising is offensive, does not argue that the higher form of advertising-Creative Advertising, will not be both legitimate and effective.
As to methods, I have already said that each case requires specific treatment, dependent upon the thousand and one special conditions surrounding each institution.
Knowing colleges as well as you gentlemen do, you doubtless would select one institution for one boy and another for another boy-because youth is various and colleges differ in methods and excel in different lines. The college advertisement should pulsate with the individual spirit of that college, and should be directed to those persons whom that college can do the most good.
Most colleges are territorial in their respective spheres of influence. It should be the aim of the college to keep before the parents and youth of that territory a strong, convincing statement that will lead the boy and girl to desire above all things, the training for life that only a college can give-not a perfunctory, formal statement, but direct, heart-toheart talks such as you would give your
son should he weary of school routine and long for the battle of life before he is properly developed and equipped.
The college needs what we call in business a good "follow-up" system. It needs good newspaper and periodical
advertising which will put it in touch with the youth of its territory and then booklets and catalogues and circulars and letters which will keep alive the interest the advertising awakens. The average college catalogue needs a thorough reformation. Today it is attractive enough, perhaps, but it is cold, dignified and formal. It may be just as dignified without coldness, and may be made an “appeal-direct" without becoming gushing. The college must stretch forth its hand and assure the youth of a welcome.
Magazines and periodicals carry more educational advertising every year—the larger proportion of it, that of preparatory, “finishing" and technical schools; the larger "correspondence schools" spend thousands and tens of thousands for publicity, but the college properthe institution to which the nation looks for its future leaders-is seldom found employing this legitimate means of reaching the youth of the land.
Is it not true that these schools have advanced at the expense of the college? Is it not true that many a fond mother is sending her daughter for a smattering of education to a fashionable "finishing school,” when the girl needs the same training that would come from hard work under your guidance? Is it not true that many a young man who could and should be in a real college is spending his time and money in acquiring a half-baked education ? Has the student body of our colleges increased in due proportion with the increase in population and increase in prosperity? And, finally, gentlemen, in all courtesy but with perfect candor, has the college itself advanced in public esteem and in standing as it should? To this question I have only the answer of numerous college professors who bewail in the public prints the decline of the college's influence.
As a layman, as an outside observer of matters educational, I deny that the American college today is less efficient