Kent State advertising campaigns target different audiences


Josh Cribbs, Cleveland Browns wide receiver, starred in one of Kent State’s advertisements.

Kirsten Bowers

In 2010, Kent State hired Columbus-based Fahlgren Mortine Advertising to help create its “Experience for Life” campaign. The campaign included commercials that featured several of the university’s programs and starred some of Kent State’s famous alumni, including Cleveland Browns’ wide receiver Josh Cribbs and musician Mark Mothersbaugh.

Cribbs and Mothersbaugh, as well as other accomplished Kent alumni, stressed the importance of education and how their experiences at Kent State helped prepare them for the real world.

Iris Harvey, vice president of University Relations, said Kent State’s advertising campaign has not changed much since 2010. The university aims to maintain the same key messages and themes, but it has tried to execute it in different ways creatively.

Wendy Wardell, advertising lecturer and faculty adviser for Kent State’s chapter of American Advertising Federation, said the “Experience For Life” advertisements aim to help the university target people searching for a college that will launch them to the places they want to go.

“[Kent State] wants you to know that your education is going to apply to what you’re doing,” Wardell said. “It’s not only about taking in knowledge; you’re actually doing things you’d do in your profession.”

Danielle Coombs, assistant advertising professor, said the tagline, “Experience for Life,” is all about showing students that Kent State will prepare them for the future.

“[The campaign] is emphasizing that [attending Kent State] is a long-term benefit,” Coombs said. “It’s showing it can actually help you achieve what you want to achieve.”

The “Experience for Life” ads first premiered during the 2010 Kent State vs. Penn State football game on all networks and cable television in northeast Ohio, as well as Youngstown, Columbus, Toledo and Pittsburgh, according to a university press release.

In addition to the commercials, the campaign also launched ads on Facebook and was estimated to reach five million viewers.

Harvey said Kent State advertises with two purposes. The first is to create awareness and interest in the university among high school students and their parents. The second is to create enough interest so students will send their test scores, visit campus or visit the university’s website.

“The campaign, as a whole, is designed to differentiate Kent State from other universities by demonstrating that we have a varied choice of colleges with groundbreaking programs,” Harvey said.

Coombs said utilizing famous alumni to speak about the programs offered at Kent State emphasizes the effective quality of the programs.

She gives the example of ads for Playhouse Square that feature Tony Award winners and Kent State alumni Alice Ripley and John Moauro.

“This ad shows not only does [Kent State] have a theater department, but it communicates the excellence of the theater department,” Coombs said.

When asked how much the “Experience for Life” campaign cost the university, Harvey said Kent State invested $1 million annually on the ads but did not wish to disclose the exact amount on advertising per medium.

Overall, Harvey said the campaign has proven to show a good return on investment for the university. She said the university has continued to see an increase in applications, enrollment and higher GPA scores and ACT scores for incoming students.

“The ‘Experience for Life’ tagline reinforces the promise we make to our students: When you graduate you will be ready to compete in the workforce, you will be ready to perform in your chosen career and you will have the confidence to take advantage of life’s opportunities,” Harvey said.

The university’s newest television spot, which first aired during the Bowl game, featured various shots of campus, as well as some facts about Kent State.

This commercial was actually a promotional spot provided by the GoDaddy Bowl, which gives teams free airtime for public service messages.

Although the commercial cost the university nothing, Harvey said that all of the attention the university received during the College World Series added up to be worth about $1.2 million of free publicity.

The billboards

This year, Kent State introduced billboards into its advertising campaign as part of the “First Choice”

initiative.The billboards are broader in who they target, and Wardell said this is because billboards are for a mass


“You can’t control who’s going to see it,” Wardell said. “They have to target a mass audience.”

“Number one in college graduates in northeast ohio” – TRUE

According to an article on, Kent State is number one in college graduates in Northeast Ohio, with 5,223 degrees awarded in the 2009-2010 school year. When looking at the number of graduates in the state of Ohio, Kent State moves down to fourth place

“Bigger first year scholarships” – TRUE

Incoming freshmen are eligible for more than $31 million in merit scholarships for 6,328 incoming

freshman, according to a university press release, as compared to the $24 million to 5,766 students last


“Northeast Ohio’s first-choice public university.” – SPECULATION

Kent State billboards also boast that the university is a “Great first-choice university,” while an ad on the website simply states it is “Northeast Ohio’s first-choice public university.”

In the article about the advertisement, there is no proof of how many students actually choose Kent State as their first choice.

The Commercials

“Fashion” – WEAK

As part of the “Experience for Life” campaign, a commercial featuring Scott Bunner, a senior fashion merchandising major, and Monique Burkett, a graduate of the fashion program, aims to showcase Kent State’s Fashion School.

In the ad, Bunner said Kent State’s Fashion School is “one of the top five in the country.”

According to, Kent State’s Fashion School is number four in the U.S. behind Parsons: The New School for Design, The Fashion Institute of Technology and PRATT, all located in New York City. But is first and foremost a fashion blog, and not an entirely credible judge of fashion school rankings. Their rating even claims it “is not scientific.”

“Tapping into technology” – TRUE

Throughout this commercial, Diaz McDaniel, a Kent State graduate, focuses on the great things that come out of Kent State, including technology that is being used to develop new products, such as the Liquid Crystal Display writing tablet, Boogie Board.

The company where Diaz works and where the Boogie Board was developed is a spin-off company of the university’s Liquid Crystal Institute called Kent Displays, Inc. According to the Plain Dealer, the Boogie Board, made with Kent Displays technology, was launched in November 2011.

“Town and gown” – TRUE

Another commercial in the campaign features two Kent State students, Nader Hassen, a marktieng major, and Brittney Yost, senior sports administration major, as they discuss the Kent State campus and the city of Kent.

In the commercial, Yost said one of the things that appealed to her about the university is its safe campus.

According to, a nationwide study by the Consortium for Higher Education Campus Crime Research ranked Kent State in the lowest 2 percent of crime for universities of a similar size. The Kent State Police Department is the only nationally accredited law enforcement agency at a public university in Ohio, according to the site.

“Entrepreneurship” – TRUE

This commercial follows Chad Radke, junior entrepreneurship major, and Breana Jacobs, junior nursing major, as they discuss how the entrepreneurship and marketing faculty helped them formulate their idea for a new medical product, Fresh Scent Surgical Masks.

In the commercial, Jacobs said, “We pitched our plan and won first place in a competition.”

According to an article on the Kent State website, Jacobs and Radke did win first place in the “Taking the Idea to the Real” contest, created by Kent State’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Innovations.

Radke and Jacobs then took their idea to the national level where they won third place, according to the Burton D. Morgan website.

“ TV spot” – TRUE

In the Bowl commercial, several claims were made about Kent State, including it being “One of the world’s top universities.”

The commercial claims that Kent State was “A Best National University,” according to US News rankings. Although it didn’t fall in the top 200 numerical rankings, Kent State was included on the list.

According to the Times Higher Education World Rankings, Kent State is ranked between 301 and 350 in the world. With are approximately 8,000 universities in the world, this means Kent State falls in the top 5 percent.

Contact Kirsten Bowers at [email protected].