Truth in Advertising: University Advertising Campaigns Struggle to Speak to Minorities without Being Misleading

By Butterman, Eric | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, March 22, 2007 | Go to article overview

Truth in Advertising: University Advertising Campaigns Struggle to Speak to Minorities without Being Misleading


Butterman, Eric, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Picture this: A group of ethnically diverse students studying together in expansive, state-of-the-art libraries or strolling across perfectly manicured campus lawns engaged in intelligent conversation--congregating as one in all higher education has to offer. This is an image colleges and universities often portray in recruitment brochures, and sometimes it's even true. But when it's not, these marketing materials can be embarrassing or worse.

Drake University has been criticized for running ads depicting more diversity than there really was. As a result, president David Maxwell now personally approves each ad.

"I look through every ad we use and have to ask myself if it's accurately reflecting Drake," Maxwell says. "We did something where we featured an African-American student, and I had to think hard about whether it was overstating things. But to not feature this student would have been wrong. She was involved in crew and many activities. She's such a part of this place--truly a part of the face of Drake."

Hector Orci, co-chairman of La Agencia De Orci, an advertising agency in Los Angeles, agrees that there's some balancing involved.

"Colleges just can't put minorities all over their ad campaigns and think they'll get away with misrepresentation," says Orci. "At the same time, they must have some diversity in their ads or minorities will feel they're not wanted. A welcoming campaign showing minority faces isn't misleading--it opens doors."

For example, says Orci, if a college is trying to attract a diverse student body, then it must speak to the specific minority group's needs.

"Latinos are family-oriented, it's difficult for them to be away from home," he says. "I need to know through pictures or words how you will take care of my needs. Get specific."

Orci also points out that as consumers, Blacks are generally very skeptical.

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Truth in Advertising: University Advertising Campaigns Struggle to Speak to Minorities without Being Misleading
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