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Pricey rebranding push at Penn State roundly criticized

Anna Orso | For the Tribune-Review
A banner from Penn State’s new marketing campaign hangs from the Pattee and Paterno Library on the university’s campus on Friday, Dec. 13, 2013.

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By Anna Orso
Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, 9:42 p.m.
 

STATE COLLEGE — Students and alumni across the state are scratching their heads at Penn State University's new marketing campaign — branded “Penn State Lives Here” — which officials said has cost $811,719 so far.

Yard signs, banners and promotional items across the school's 24 campuses rolled out in October, kicked off during a video played at Penn State's game with Michigan at Beaver Stadium. The video elaborates on the initiative, saying, “That's what makes Penn State, Penn State. Inspiration meets perspiration here. Head meets heart here. On our campuses, across our country, around the world. Penn State lives here.”

Penn State spokeswoman Annemarie Mountz said the university worked with Austin, Texas-based consulting firm PulsePoint through a process that included “extensive research.” She said that research gave thousands of Penn Staters an opportunity to participate in online surveys regarding the work.

Penn State senior Anthony Panichelli of West Chester said he's disappointed the university paid PulsePoint to come up with a brand that's “inorganic and unoriginal.”

“It's sort of insulting and disgusting that PulsePoint could accept a dollar for something so unoriginal,” Panichelli said. “You could have paid a marketing student a pizza and they would have come up with something better.”

Jeff Hunt, founding partner of PulsePoint Group, said negative comments regarding the simplicity of “Penn State Lives Here” are coming from misinformed critics.

“I think it's important to understand what the initiative is, which is much more than a slogan,” he said. “The assignment was to develop a positioning for Penn State that captured the essence of what the university is, and this does that.”

Mountz said the point of the branding initiative is to “serve as a North Star” to guide communications and marketing activities throughout the university. She also defended the cost, saying the price comes out to 6.4 cents per person the initiative targeted. Hunt said the target audience is prospective students in Pennsylvania, current students and alumni.

“For a campaign of this magnitude,” she said, “my sense is that the cost is very reasonable.”

Josh Hoch, who graduated in 2009, heard university officials deliver a presentation on the new branding initiative in Harrisburg this week. The university's marketing department, along with the alumni association, also gave presentations in Philadelphia and Washington.

Hoch, of Harrisburg, said he understands criticisms that the brand is lackluster, but said he supports the initiative as one that describes Penn State “to a tee.”

“Why not support this ‘Penn State Lives Here' initiative?” Hoch said. “It lives within our students, faculty, staff and alumni no matter how near or far they are to Dear Old State. Penn State lives everywhere.”

Anna Orso is a freelance reporter based in State College.

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