WONK continues to craft AU identity one year later

WONK continues to craft AU identity one year later

Correction appended.

Seniors will have one last opportunity to love or hate the WONK campaign on graduation day. They can pose for photos with life-sized cartoons of “commencement WONKs” in full regalia, eat off WONK napkins and wear WONK buttons before AU becomes their alma mater.

As the Class of 2011 leaves with WONK marking the end of their college careers, the Class of 2015 is beginning with WONK defining theirs.

The incoming freshman class will be the first to see WONK materials throughout their entire admissions and enrollment process, according to Terry Flannery, AU’s executive director of University Communications and Marketing.

Prospective students are embracing the campaign, many using the word in their application essays, Flannery said.

“Regardless of how you feel about the word, it created a conversation about what is American University’s identity, what are its strengths, what makes it distinctive,” she said.

AU used a spring marketing campaign featuring WONK ads across the District to target both tourists and prospective students, Flannery said.

Ads papered the Farragut West, Smithsonian and Reagan National Airport Metro stations, as well as parts of the airport itself.

“You get the sense when you arrive at the station ... you feel like you’ve arrived at American University,” Flannery said.

After this push, the WONK website saw more visitors in four weeks than it did the previous four months combined, she said.

During this fiscal year, which is set to end April 30, AU spent $808,000 on the WONK campaign as part of the University's Strategic Plan. The campaign was funded specifically because it represents part of AU's overall branding and marketing initiatives.

WONK adoption not widespread across campus

The Student Government, although it remains neutral on the campaign, recently awarded the marketing team its Unity Award for bringing the campus together.

“The WONK campaign for the first time really tried to define what it meant to be an AU student,” said SG President Nate Bronstein.

But the effort hasn’t been accepted by the entire AU community.

The Washington College of Law does not use WONK for its marketing materials; instead it employs a “Champion What Matters” campaign, adopted in spring 2010, according to WCL Director of Public Relations Franki Fitterer.

The School of Communication has only used WONK in part of its advertising, including for its master’s programs. But the school does not use the campaign to promote its academic and professional conferences or its new Ph.D. program.

“Most of our faculty do not think WONK resonates with those target audiences,” Dean Larry Kirkman wrote in an e-mail.

The campus bookstore sells WONK T-shirts, but not the entire array of clothing and other WONK merchandise, including bumper stickers and iPhone cases.

All of the WONK merchandise, except T-shirts, is available at www.cafepress.com/AmericanWONKS. The University doesn’t receive a profit from these online sales, as the items are sold at the same prices they cost to make.

“The goal here is to help with adoption and spreading the word about the campaign, rather than make a profit,” Flannery said.

The Follett Higher Education Group, which operates the AU bookstore, has said it will only carry the WONK T-shirts, according to Flannery.

“They’re cautious about any kind of new product initiative,” she said.


Correction: In the original version of this article, the amount AU spent on the WONK campaign was misstated as $908,000, with $100,000 for a video component. The correct amount is $808,000. Neither number represents 0.8 percent of AU's total budget, as previously stated.

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