Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Go (to) Big Red!

If your university is going to do a social-media campaign to create a little buzz and enhance the ol' profile, you just as well have a little fun with it. YOLO!

Wait a sec . . . I'm not sure I used "YOLO" (You Only Live Once) correctly. What University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman is doing here isn't dumb at all. (See the YouTube video. Ol' Harv has a point on that particular catchphrase.)

What's a delightful surprise in these UN-L videos is this: The chancellor, 71, is a funny, funny guy. Not only in front of the camera, but as a writer, too. He rewrote everything that the ad agency and university marketing staff put before him, and if it says it in the Omaha World-Herald, it must be so.

Or good enough for newspaper work.
The “Perls of Knowledge” spots have been tweeted and re-tweeted and re-re-tweeted. The ad campaign has gotten a mountain of free publicity, courtesy of media outlets from Sioux City to San Francisco and from Columbus, Ind., all the way to China.

The jury is out on whether “Perls of Knowledge” will result in more students for UNL — Perlman, when he's not fighting zombies, has vowed to get UNL's current enrollment of 24,207 to a nice round 30,000 in the next four years.

But what seems clear is this: For $40,000, a tiny fraction of the university's marketing budget, UNL has gotten the kind of publicity that most wannabe Carly Raes — and most universities — would kill a whole zombie army for.

“It worked because of (Perlman's) really bitey sarcasm,” says Dan Kohler, UNL's senior assistant director for digital marketing and the aforementioned 27-year-old. “The tone actually speaks well to a younger generation ... and it's packaged in a way that takes a traditional brand and throws it into this very nontraditional environment.”

I figured I would pull back the curtain on “Perls of Knowledge” and learn that the chancellor was just a glorified prop in this digital marketing strategy, a willing and able participant in an experiment hatched and run by people younger than I am.

But the real story is stranger: Perlman himself came up with the general idea. He enlisted allies, including Amber Hunter, UNL's admissions director, and Kohler.

“He had been paying more attention to pop culture, spending more time with the admissions office — we're one of the youngest offices on campus — and asking a lot of questions,” Hunter says. “A lot of this comes from him just trying to understand how we could share something all over the country.”

They brought in Archrival, a Lincoln marketing firm that cultivates an edgy reputation.

Archrival employees and UNL's five-person digital marketing staff together wrote the video's scripts. And then Perlman took those scripts with him on a long, long flight to China. When he came home, he had rewritten every last one.

On taping day, Perlman nailed most of the scripts with one or two takes.

“He's a pretty funny guy,” admits Clint! Runge, Archrival's creative marketing director and a man with a “!” purposefully embedded in his first name.
 THE CHANCELLOR, as I said, is a funny guy. Dryly hilarious, even.

Almost as funny as putting an exclamation point behind your first name. YOLO!

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