When the College of William & Mary admission staff decided to redesign the brochure it mails to prospective students, they wanted something different. Something eye-catching, memorable. Something high- schoolers wouldn’t throw away.
”We wanted people to open the mailbox and say, ‘Viewbook... viewbook... viewbook... spaceship!’” said Dean of Admission Henry R. Broaddus.
Their final product: The Ampersandbox, a thin cardboard box filled with 15 heavy-weight cards. On the front of the cards, the school plays off its signature conjunction with bold two-word statements (like “Down & Dirty” or “Ebb & Flow”) on top of a photo. The back of the cards feature meaty information like lists of student clubs, study abroad options, research opportunities and academic majors. (There’s also an Ampersandbox online, where users can shift through the university’s collection of word pairs and create their own.)
As I talk with college admissions officials, I keep hearing about their attempts to move away from “three and tree” — brochures that prominently feature a photo of three diverse students studying under a tree on a gorgeous sunny day. The universal thinking seems to be that today’s college-bound teens want something that stands out in the mailbox, that speaks to them without using marketing-speak and that points them to an interactive online feature.
Many of the viewbooks that land in my mailbox look more like a coffee table book or magazine than a brochure. With their funky photos, edgy design, unusual color palates and one-word headlines, these viewbooks look like something you might find on a bookshelf at Urban Outfitters.
The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, just published comic-book-style brochures and a Web site that features students dressed as superheroes. American University, which branded itself as being a home to “wonks,” hands out artsy seven-by-seven-inch square books. Flipping through the viewbook for Loyola University Maryland is like reading a well-designed teen magazine that plots dry statistics and facts on colorful graphics.
In William and Mary’s deck of cards, the language is casual, inside-ish and a little nerdy. For example, a card labeled “Home & Away” features a photo from move-in day and reads, in part: “At some point during your second week at William & Mary, you’re going to be at the IHOP with some hall-mates... and you’re going to say it. ‘Let’s go home.’ You won’t be referring to your parents’ split-level ranch in Bethesda. You’ll be talking about Barrett, where you and a stranger from Idaho (now your second-best friend) share 345 square feet of barely contained chaos.”
“The voice on those cards is very strong. It’s authentic,” Broaddus said. As staffers edited some of the cards, they wondered, “Is it too inside? I don’t think so. I think we pulled that off.”
The most talked-about card in the pack (at least in our office) is labeled “Naked & Friendly” and features a photo of the school’s mascot, The Griffin, who appears to be giggling. The Griffin was once criticized by W&M alum Jon Stewart on the Daily Show for not wearing any pants. While some schools might be offended by such a slam, William and Mary promises students that at August move-in they will be “greeted by a pants-less Griffin.”
“Jon Stewart, being an alum. We can’t claim that often enough,” Broaddus said.