U-Md. marketing evolves from ‘Fear the Turtle’ to ‘Fearless Ideas’

Branding helps build modern colleges and universities, whether they like it or not. Some pay great attention to slogans, Web sites, iconic images and social media. Some capi­tal­ize on being named after, or founded by, a president.

Some essentially ignore all that and let their name, location and record speak for it.

The University of Maryland, College Park has tried a few branding campaigns in recent years.

How College Park markets itself was, in part, the subject of a Washington Post story Saturday about the buzz over the university’s women’s basketball team as it prepared for an NCAA semifinal game in Nashville. The Terps lost that contest Sunday evening to the University of Notre Dame. But the Final Four appearance gave U-Md. some national exposure.

In 2003, College Park launched a “Fear the Turtle” promotion, building on a rallying cry from fans as the men’s basketball team, the Terrapins, was drawing attention for success in the 2001 and 2002 NCAA tournaments.

That campaign, perhaps because it had grass-roots origins, got some traction. It was mentioned in a 2010 Post story on university branding that analyzed American University’s “American Wonk” campaign. It resonated with U-Md.’s broad sports fan base and helped College Park distinguish itself a bit among the nation’s public flagship universities.

But Brian Ullmann, the university’s assistant vice president for marketing, said last week that some faculty became concerned the slogan was a little too sports-centric. After all, only a small fraction of the university’s 37,000 students are on teams that compete in NCAA sports.

So the university tried out another campaign, “Unstoppable Starts Here.” It didn’t last long.

A Google search Monday morning found that the “Unstoppable” campaign lingers on the Web, at least on this page. Also on Monday morning, this reporter found that a U-Md. “Fear the Turtle” campaign page was inactive. But a later check in the afternoon found it was live. You can see it here.

In 2012, about two years after U-Md. President Wallace D. Loh took office, the university launched a new slogan. “Fearless Ideas” plays off the “Fear the Turtle” campaign, but it is meant to emphasize the university’s push to be known as a center of innovation and entre­pre­neur­ship.

We’ll see if it catches on.

For more Post coverage of the University of Maryland, go here.

Nick Anderson covers higher education for The Washington Post. He has been a writer and editor at The Post since 2005.
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