University's Light Bulb Concept Gets Dim Response

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A direct mail campaign featuring the image of a light bulb has failed to spark the expected response for a Boston University master's program.


The effort mailed in March to promote the university's College of Communication and Metropolitan College, which is BU's part-time division.


A combination of lists was used totaling 15,000 people in the advertising field, including those working at ad agencies as well as individuals with the words "sales, marketing, public relations" or "advertising" in their titles in the greater Boston area.


The piece mailed in a see-through envelope with the word "ADVERTISING" above an image of a light bulb. "THE BIG IDEA" was printed down the lower right corner. It opened into three panels, including quotes from marketing professionals touting the benefits of an advanced degree.


"You and your team have been working day and night. Too much strong coffee ... too many weak concepts. And then suddenly there it is up on the board: THE BIG IDEA," appeared on the back of one panel. The back panel visible through the envelope lists the program's 13 courses.


Not included in the piece is the program's cost: $2,360 per course. With normal rises in tuition, the program will cost more than $30,000 spread out over two or three years.


"It's a scary number for young people if their employers aren't paying," Metropolitan College assistant dean Sonia Parker said.


Carolyn Montalto, a freelance marketing consultant who worked on the project, discussed the use of the light bulb and the packaging.


"We wanted to go above and beyond just using a picture of the campus, which is traditional when marketing for a university," she said. "We went with the light bulb in order to reach the heart of the people in the field. We want professionals in this program.


"We also thought the packaging was extremely critical in capturing their attention immediately, and that's why we used the shiny, [see-through] envelope."


In the envelope was a business reply card featuring a light switch in the "ON" position. Recipients could return the card and request an application package or indicate that they wanted to attend an informational reception.


"We were hoping for a 1 percent response on it, but we got about 60 returns, which was less than one-half of 1 percent," Montalto said. "We felt that our potential students respond better to options, which is why they had two options to choose from on the BRC. A lot of those who responded checked both options."


The program's costs included $8,500 for creative expenses; $8,000 for printing; $5,000 for the list purchase; and $9,730 for postage and fulfillment.


Twenty-seven respondents attended an informational session in early April, with that total attributed to print advertising done for the program in AdWeek and a local daily free newspaper called Metro, as well as the direct mail campaign.


"That was better than we originally expected for the first session," Montalto said. "For something like this we are happy to get 10 people, and then we try to convert 50 percent of them to sign up for the program."


The print ads and direct mail combined have produced only three enrollees to date. The goal is to register 24 people for the program by Sept. 3.


"The cost of the master's program is fairly high, and we're asking people in a very busy profession to commit to finishing this program," she said. "We're also pushing it as professional development, so maybe in the creative field the attainment of a master's degree isn't as important as it might be in other fields.


"If you're a star creative director, it may not matter if you're getting a master's degree. Also, we're up against a part-time program at [Boston's] Emerson College, which has a part-time program in advertising."


She added that a final push using further direct mail will occur in August. Other efforts will include letters sent to human resources and training directors, along with e-mail blasts, that will promote open houses touting the program.


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