The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News September 15, 2006

Admissions Recruiting Grows “Fearless”
Marketing Consultant Sheds Light on Branding

In August, Oberlin College began distributing its new admissions viewbook which centers on the new “fearless” slogan conceived by Massachusetts-based marketing strategist Mark Edwards.

The new slogan was coined last semester after the Board of Trustees voted to approve the new marketing strategy in an effort to highlight Oberlin as a cutting-edge institution in the liberal arts marketplace.

“We hope to differentiate Oberlin in a highly competitive marketplace while staying true to what Oberlin is today,” said Edwards.

While the Board of Trustees approved the “fearless” concept, Edwards is ultimately responsible for the visual direction of the campaign.

The “fearless” viewbook and website (, funded by trustees and money already designated for admissions marketing projects, are the first in a multi-pronged marketing effort that will be implemented over a two-and-a-half-year cycle. Other admissions materials, including search pieces, posters, postcards and other websites will also be revamped by Edwards. 

Although the “fearless” viewbook is not intended for a specific demographic of prospective students, it is important to note that maximum recruitment efforts are being geared toward African American prospective students as part of the larger Strategic Plan. 

The campaign aims at attracting students who have not heard of Oberlin, are not considering it, or have false preconceptions about Oberlin as an institution of radical social liberalism. 

“The real goal isn’t to tell the entire Oberlin story,” Edwards explained. “We want to create awareness in the marketplace so that students will stop and take notice and want to find out more.”

When interviewed by the Review in March, Edwards emphasized that, although it was unclear as to how “fearless” would be incorporated into admissions materials and other marketing campaigns, it would definitely not stand alone as a slogan.

The word “fearless,” however, is printed on every page of the viewbook, including the cover.

This change was made based on the results of testing performed on a wide group of prospective students already in Oberlin’s inquiry pool.  Edwards explained that slogans with low profiles are not as positively received as clear, descriptive words, such as “fearless.”

“This campaign evolved from listening closely to what prospective students had to tell us,” Edwards said.

“Fearless” was also chosen to reflect the current positive perceptions of Oberlin.  During the research and development phase of the campaign, prospective students were asked for their perceptions of Oberlin.  The top four responses were academic excellence, the Conservatory, social justice, and weird.  Edwards developed “fearless” to directly and positively correspond to these responses.

“Given these current perceptions, we wanted to say something memorable and true that would challenge the negative statements,” Edwards explained.  “Our goal was not to change Oberlin’s mission, because that is central to what Oberlin is, but our goal was to find out how to talk about that mission.”

Whether or not “fearless” will be as prominent in future admissions materials is unclear.

“I just don’t know at this point,” Edwards said.  “It depends on the reaction to these materials in the marketplace.”

The former admissions slogan “Think one person can change the world?  So do we.” is not used in the new viewbook or on the website.  However, Edwards explained that the concept is nonetheless embodied in the “fearless” campaign through examples of the impact that Oberlin graduates have on the world.

To monitor response to the new marketing campaign, Steven Roth, OC ’77 was hired as a marketing consultant to make objective observations and gather statistical data at key points throughout the implementation of the campaign.

Although a complete analysis of the campaign will take place in a couple of years, a preliminary qualitative testing of the viewbook in Columbus, OH two weeks ago was largely positive.  As the campaign continues, quantitative tests will be done to measure if interest in Oberlin has increased from a previously established baseline. 

“I am doing this testing so that you don’t look up two years from now and wonder if it has worked,” said Roth.  “I can measure along the way.”      

The new viewbook and website have had mixed reviews from current Oberlin students.  Although many agree that they are fearless in a number ways, they are upset that more students were not consulted in the development process of the campaign. 

Skeptics and supporters alike see the lack of communication surrounding this campaign as an example of one of many top-down decisions made by the current administration.

Students have also expressed worries that the new marketing strategy will attract a different type of student to Oberlin in the future.  Many see this strategy as an effort to “change” Oberlin.

The new marketing strategy as it stands now is tentative and contingent upon responses from the marketplace.


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