A Marketing Hypothetical

This season The University of Notre Dame has been airing a student recruiting advertisement called “Candle”. It portrays a prospective student, lighting candles in church to pray for admission to Notre Dame. When she receives her admissions envelope in the mail, she looks heavenward, and the words “a higher education” appear on the screen underneath the name of the university.

The advertisement has received mixed reviews from students and alums of Notre Dame. (For a negative reaction to the spot, see here.)

Let’s pretend that you are advising BYU on developing its brand. Would you recommend using “Candle” as a model? If you don’t like this approach, how would you brand BYU? Note that BYU will be playing Notre Dame on national television next Saturday, so you will have your opportunity to shine almost immediately.

Extra credit: How would you deal with the fact that BYU is a franchise system, with outlets in Utah, Idaho, and Hawaii?

62 comments for “A Marketing Hypothetical

  1. Nice post! I love the implication that admissions decisions are done by revelation rather than formula or committee.

    BYU doesn’t have to emphasize the “Lord’s University” aspect of its brand. That’s already strong. Instead, the part of the BYU brand that has fallen down a bit, due to the franchise extension, is the idea of academic excellence. That’s what I’d emphasize.

  2. I think it’s appropriate, since divine intervention is the only way most people could get accepted to BYU-Provo.

  3. I’ve always been a little leery of dramatic interpretations of spiritual material. I guess I’m just worried that my cherished beliefs are going to be somehow cheapened by an incompetent director, a low budget, or poor acting (or all of the above). Plenty of past seminary videos have tended to heighten this anxiety.

  4. I don’t think this is a good idea for BYU. Notre Dame doesn’t feel obliged to serve the interests of the overall Catholic Church in the same way that BYU does. In other words, Notre Dame can be as exclusive as it wants to, and there won’t be a discrete number of people ticked off because they think they are entitled to get in. BYU, on the other hand, has to be very careful about playing up the revelation side of it, because every Mormon in America kind of thinks he or she has a right to be there. Thus, acting like it’s God answering those admissions applications will have a rather smarting effect for all the rejects.

  5. How about a kid doing homework while his friends are off playing. Then he opens his letter of acceptance while his friends go to the local community college, get addicted to drugs and move into trailer parks.

    I hope admissions has something to do with hard work too.

  6. Start with a shot of a young German boy looking wistfully through his grandfather’s WWII memorabilia, then cut to a blond BYU student calling to nark on his roommate for not wearing socks. Mention tradition, dreams and making the word a safer place in voiceover.

  7. Ryan’s note should be amended to read “every white, upper middle class non-Hispanic Mormon in America.” Almost none of the Mormon kids that I have known for the last 25 years in New York have given any thought at all to BYU, and they certainly haven’t thought that their membership in the Church entitles them to a place there.

    Perhaps if admissions criteria were skewed in their favor, there would be a broadening of the worldview of BYU’s graduates. (And, if you don’t think they’re narrow-minded, take a look at the New York singles scene–do any of the whitebread BYU grads who populate the singles wards in Manhattan every stoop to consider a Hispanic kid from Jackson Heights or a Puerto Rican from Williamsburg or a Haitian from Flatbush their brother or sister?)

  8. Actually, Mark, that’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m saying that all Mormons (at least those who are aware of the Church and its educational holdings) feel invested in BYU, given that their tithing money pays for it. Thus, their investment often leads to a sense of (justifiable) entitlement.

    What you’re saying is that only the upper class, well-educated kids will actually get in. Fine. I’m just saying that everyone in the church does, or ought to, feel invested in the church, and that that leads to feeling like they have certain rights sometimes.

  9. Aren’t we a bit early in this thread for the heated responses we’ve already seen? Mark B., I usually try to let a couple dozen comments show up before attacking hegemonic traditions of race and class, just as a matter of courtesy. And, SS, maybe you could wait, say, about fifty gazillion years before posting a similar comment again? Thanks.

    Personally, I think prospective students should never be encouraged to light candles, because it leads to fires in their dorm rooms. A candle sparked a fire here last week that caused $10,000 in structural damage. Please, no candles.

  10. “Perhaps if admissions criteria were skewed in their favor, there would be a broadening of the worldview of BYU?s graduates”

    Does BYU not give minorities a bonus in admissions? Believe me, I’d be fine if it didn’t, but I thought it did.

    Also, I deplore the hegemony of race and class and discourse, and so on.

  11. What is the BYU brand? As far as I can tell its pitch has been “come and experience Mormon immersion (MI).” This pitch has done an effective job of narrowing the field of potential applicants to those desiring MI. Hence, the “Candle” theme would be a disaster as it would turn the oportunity of experiencing MI into a “chosen” state– not the message BYU wants to send especially to those few non-LDS that do apply. Given the number of applicants and the corresponding acceptance/matriculation rates it’s obvious BYU doesn’t need to appeal to a larger audience than those desiring, or at least willing to tolerate, MI. I think BYU’s biggest challenge is convincing that small segment that it has the academic strenth so that graduates can compete on a national level.

    As for the franchise issue, ND is little more than a franchisee itself. It’s part of the larger association of Jesuit universities that include BC, SLU, USD, and G’Town to name just a few. To a certain extent the “Candle” ad is meant to appeal to “good” Catholics, implying that God wants you to attend ND, not BC.

  12. 7. Mark B.,
    FWIW, a hispanic YW from the Southwest LA (Watts) branch started at the Y this year. No one in the branch seemed surprised. The branch took their YM/YW on a trip to Utah last year — BYU, Temple Square, national parks, Lagoon — to reinforce the feeling of belonging and to plant seeds. However, this young lady had her sights set on BYU before that because her family feels fully enfranchised in the Church. They likely would feel surprised and annoyed by a paternalistic suggestion otherwise.

  13. Manean,

    Thanks for your comments. The many mixed race kids in my YM’s org are also fully enfranchised in the church and some want to attend BYU. Get this……. One the Bishoprics white daughters was dating the former Asian Bishops mixed race kid prior to the mixed race kids mission. The white girls kid brother my HM comp has been speculating that his sister will marry this mixed race kid when he gets off mission.

    Sorry Mark B…..

  14. Walnut Valley, I don’t think Notre Dame University is Jesuit. Adam Greenwood will correct me if I’m wrong.

  15. Adam,

    I attended a stake meeting with a BYU rep a few months ago who assured everyone that minorities receive no “bonus” in admissions. He basically said minorities should try to tell a good story in their personal statement, because that is the only way it can affect admissions. I also learned that *every* applicant who lives east of the Mississippi gets a bonus in the admissions process. But every applicant from west of the Mississippi is treated the same, whether she lives in Provo or South Central LA.

  16. I’m guessing that to acheive the desired effect, the “good story in the personal statement” should start something like this: “As a minority, …”

  17. I saw the ND ad on the game broadcast Saturday night. At first I was turned off by it but then thought it was just a way of showing a young student feeling as though her acceptance to ND was a blessing and giving thanks for that. While we don’t light candles as part of our liturgy, a similar expression could be shown for those students who have simlar feeling about getting accepted to BYU. How about a simple prayerful gesture as one drops the application in the mailbox and then an expression of prayerful thinksgiving when one arrives on campus, looking at the majestic Wasatch Mountains.

    BTW, I’ll be at the game Saturday but will be rooting for the Irish – my son is a graduate student there.

  18. Adam wrote: “I deplore the hegemony of race and class and discourse, and so on.”

    Hey, what a coincidence, I do too!

  19. Lamonte, I will be at the game, too. Last time BYU played Notre Dame, the BYU crowd was modest enough that you could spot friends who happened to be in attendance. If you or any other T&Sers spot me with my son (and two friends from our ward), feel free to make yourself known. Just look for the guy in this photo, but wearing a BYU sweatshirt instead of that Wisconsin piece.

  20. Lamonte, you can’t fool us, you just want to root for the team that’s actually going to win.

  21. “I also learned that *every* applicant who lives east of the Mississippi gets a bonus in the admissions process. But every applicant from west of the Mississippi is treated the same, whether she lives in Provo or South Central LA.”

    Given that 6 of 6 applications from my ward a bit west of the Mississippi were admitted to BYU this year, I suspect that the suggestion that the river is the dividing line is an inaccurate generalization.

  22. Gordon – I’ll be sure to look for you. I’ll be with my two sons (late 20’s) my wife (pretty w/ dark hair) and my grandaughter (7-yr old with long blond hair) and we’ll be in the student section.

    Kevin Barney – you got me! We picked the BYU game when it was uncertain how ND would play this year. We wanted to see a game they would probably win since we went to the BC game last year. But having said that…BYU will probably play above their heads. I’m actually an Idaho Vandal so you can see why I need to find a winning team to root for.

  23. JrL: I heard that the Mississippi was the line of demarcation from the mouth of a BYU admissions officer. But I don’t think the bonus is all that big, in comparison to the major factors of GPA and ACT score. So I don’t think your experience should lead you to suspect anything. I got the sense that the geographical bonus was even less significant than seminary graduation.

  24. I don’t know why my comment would be considered paternalistic. At least in the first paragraph I was simply trying to state a fact–that in 25 years the number of young people from the church here (in Brooklyn) who have attended (or, frankly, shown much interest in attending) BYU has been miniscule. Now, some of them may have felt entitled, based upon their (or their parents’) tithe-paying, to admission there, but I have never heard that from any of them. For most, it just isn’t on the radar screen, and there isn’t a sense that they’ve somehow bought into it.

    Maybe we’re not doing a very good job of teaching them.

    I did, however, speak in the meantime to my daughter, who does not go to BYU. She did wonder about her tithing money supporting a university which costs its students (and their parents) a whole lot less then she (and her parents) are paying. I’m not sure if that’s a feeling of “being invested in” the place.

    When I asked if she felt some entitlement to admission there, she agreed, based upon her abilities and academic performance, but not based on church membership. I guess my wife and I, both BYU graduates and children of BYU professors, didn’t do a very good job teaching her about what all her church membership entailed.

    I apologize for the digression in the second paragraph. This thread reminded me of several recent conversations with young single adults in our district and their feelings about the way the “in crowd” in Manhattan acts toward them.

    Back on topic: The ad should begin by showing some poor widow in Polynesia somewhere, digging up her mason jar filled with coins and giving them to Matthew Cowley–her tithing. Then a voiceover: “Remember, 10 cents [or whatever the figure–make one up] of every dollar she contributes goes to BYU. Do you deserve it?” Then dissolve to a black screen, with the legend:

    Not a football team.
    A sacred trust.

  25. Seminary graduation seems to really have an impact on admission to BYU. I taught seminary last year and among many of the reason for attending a 5:50 AM class every week was that it really helped you when applying to BYU. That is at least what the kids and parents thought.

    Does anybody know how large of an impact it has?

  26. Greg: “I got the sense that the geographical bonus was even less significant than seminary graduation.”

    I suspect that all of these factors are tie-breakers that are not relevant except for students on the margins with ACT and GPA.

  27. B Bell – I served as bishop and was under the impression that seminary graduation did, in fact, become a factor in the applicant’s acceptance. However, after I was released I know of one young man with almost perfect attendance at seminary, as well as the required grade average, who was turned down. At the same time I know of a young woman who was accepted losing credit for a full year because of excessive absences.

    Does anyone know the actual admission requirements at BYU?

  28. Lamonte,

    Thanks. This issue come up over and over again with my YM. I wish somebody had a clear answer on what WILL get you into BYU. Your scenario sounds typical with you case in your ward. Nobody is sure what the acceptance criteria are. Is it possible that they see inspiration when faced with applicants with similar qualifications? I would actually feel better about the whole process if they did.

  29. My gues is that geography plays a bigger role than many here speculate. I attended HS in the St. Louis, MO area and every member of my stake that applied to BYU was accepted– including the most mediocre of students. On the other hand, my family (cousins) who lived in UT, AZ, and NM often struggled to get accepted to BYU. I had one cousin who graduated in the top 10% of his class and scored in the 80th percentile on his ACT and was not accepted at BYU.

    I think this plays into the desire of BYU to offer Mormon immersion to those who, for reasons of geography, have likely never experienced anything that remotely approximates it.

  30. From BYU’s website:

    “The Admissions Office will use official high school transcripts submitted at the time of application to determine a GPA for each applicant on a Carnegie 4.0 scale. The average GPA for last year’s incoming class was a 3.77.

    “Each applicant is required to have a national ACT score submitted by the application deadline. If the ACT Assessment is not available in your area, an SAT I score will be accepted. The average ACT for entering freshman at BYU last year was a 27.5 composite score.”

    These are the biggest factors. As Gordon said, things like seminary graduation, geography, extra-curriculars, personal statement, etc., typically matter only to the marginal cases.

  31. Greg,

    Those are averages on the ACT and GPA. I am looking for more details. My little brother who is currently on a mission had scores as high as those and was declined pre-mission. My other two brothers got in with slightly lower scores. (25 ACT 3.3GPA)

  32. b bell,

    Other than a very high GPA and ACT, there is really no way to guarantee admission into the Y. I recommend you email the BYU admissions office if you want more details. The email address is on the page I linked.

  33. I deplore the use of the words “hegemony” and “discourse” in the same sentence unless one is speaking ironically or openly mocking English majors;->…

  34. RE Johnathan #9:

    I still have fond memories of smuggling a real 4-foot tall Christmas tree into my Wymount apartment at 11pm (not allowed due to supposed “fire hazard”).

  35. Incidentally, I got into BYU through the backdoor.

    My high school grades were awful (though the ACT was pretty good). Post mission, I went to repentence school across the valley for two years, got my Associates and was then admitted to BYU. And I didn’t have to take a single freshman survey course at the Y (not even American Heritage)!

  36. This is a little late, but Rusty’s comment suggesting: “How about a kid doing homework while his friends are off playing. Then he opens his letter of acceptance while his friends go to the local community college, get addicted to drugs and move into trailer parks.”

    I really resent that. I worked hard in high school and went to CC because my parent’s divorce meant I couldn’t afford a 4 year college- BYU or otherwise. I got a great education there and upon transfer, found that I was better prepared for upper- division coursework than many of my peers. Many bright and talented people with goals and direction go to community college– they at least took their education more seriously than the slackers I attend school with now.

    Excuse the threadjack. I think a lot of the assumptions about community colleges are unfair.

  37. I resent the implication that some might think that just because I live in a trailer park and use drugs that I must have gone to a community college.

  38. Nate Oman,
    How ironic that you invoke heuristic discursion in the function/form of a self-subverting meta (non-meta?)-critique.

  39. I think as a prospective student, I wouldn’t have known how to respond to that ad. On the one hand, at the age I was at the time, my fondest dream was to go to a college that was at least two of these three things: small, liberal arts, and/or religious. I would have had a custody dispute between my parents (I was 15 when I was accepted to college, 16 when I started) if I’d gone to BYU, and I couldn’t afford Thomas Aquinas, Notre Dame, Georgetown, etc. Ended out at the largest public university in the country, which was most assuredly NOT the answer to my prayers, but it’s working out okay.

    My little sisters are completely turned off by the idea of Mormon immersion, but a “she prays to get in and then gets in and that’s AWESOME because that’s what’s best for her in God’s eyes” commercial might have sold them. The older of the two is 100% turned off by the idea of all the rules (one of her friends was suspended or something for an honor code violation at BYU – I think it was of the “in an apartment after a certain hour” type of thing) and the younger doesn’t feel like she’d be “at home” so far away from, well, home. Something like that might overcome those objections — reinforce the idea that BYU is a place of spirituality.

    But then again, is it? Or is it a place of Utah/Mormon culture, where you might be spiritual if you feel like it and hang with the right crowd? Is it really a *religious* community? Notre Dame isn’t exactly that, but it probably could be again; places like Harvard used to be. Thomas Aquinas is a spiritual college, but it’s got 250 students and a very spiritually minded faculty. Even most Catholic high schools don’t achieve what that ad is hinting Notre Dame is like.

  40. Adam, all joking aside, I followed your link on the sidebar to the NR article on “Vicky’s” at the mall. I agree heartily with its central complaint—and isn’t that complaint warranted rather explicitly by the notion that there is in fact something like a “hegemony of discourse” in place (though of course *I* would never use such an infelicitous phrase!)?

  41. I’m from Alaska (the only state that is both east AND west of the Mississippi) and I got into BYU just fine.

    I was told by a friend who worked in admissions that BYU was actively recruiting from outside Utah and that Utah residence “unofficially” made it harder to get into BYU.

    But who knows? Those who are determined to hate BYU will likely always do so.

  42. I don’t know, Rosalynde, because I don’t know what ‘hegemony of discourse’ means. I’m betting that its dressed-up obviousness, but if it makes you feel any better, I’m as beyond reason as Nate Oman on these issues.

  43. Adam Greenwood, it’s not necessarily dressed-up obviousness. It could be deliberate obfuscation. (The former being the hallmark of “social science”; the latter more commonly associated with literary theory.)

  44. Melanie,
    I agree that community college provides great education and opportunities. I would be happy if my children chose to go to one of the community colleges around here.
    However, BYU doesn’t admit all its applicants, so in order to go there students must keep their grades high and test well if their goal is BYU.
    I am thrilled that our country has community colleges. ANYONE who really wants to go to college can do so in this country–as long as they somehow manage to arrange to pay for it. In some countries you have to be in the top x% at age 8, practically, to go to college.

  45. “Hegemony of discourse” is Adam’s inelegant phrase, so any obfuscation or dressing-up can be attributed to him. I assumed, wrongly, that he might actually be making a substantive point, but it seems he was just sticking it to whomever.

    Nate isn’t beyond reason on these matters, he’s just enlisted in a particularly nasty academic turfwar. Removed from that context, he speaks the language rather fluently.

  46. That brings to mind the response of the editors of Social Text upon learning that they had been hoaxed by the physicist Sokal: (approx.) “So what if he says he was just making up a bunch of jargon to spoof us–he actually ended up making sense!”

  47. In my best Edna Mode voice, “No candles.”

    In particular, I could see such a commercial approach backfiring where it didn’t mean to; the implication that if you didn’t make it into BYU, God has somehow judged you unworthy. There’s already enough of that in Utah Valley to begin with, no need to fan the flames.

    I’m sure that prayer is involved in the process, but to imply that ACT/SAT scores and GPA aren’t the main criteria — rather divine intervention/non-intervention are — could have unintended consequences.

  48. Melanie,
    My comment was meant to be a joke. I was offering a stereotype with an obvious progression of consequences. I didn’t mean to offend.

    Funny follow-up.

  49. Thanks Rusty. I assiduously avoid substantive comments and focus almost exclusively on attempting funny follow-ups. It’s my blog niche.

  50. I think there should be an emotionally-charged singing of the MoTab Choir in the background, with the camera sweeping over the vistas of Utah Valley, lingering slightly over the Y, with a resonant voice intoning, “BYU … This *is* the place. Just squint your eyes when you look at the dorms or go the wards.”

    [Utah – Zion until we’re called to move to Independence.]

  51. Lots of smart points here about the differences in the PR location of BYU versus ND. As an ND student myself, I found the commercial amusing, possibly a little bit self-mocking. My impression is that for most ND undergraduate students, the religious dimension is a minor factor in their choice of schools, although for many it is a plus. Notre Dame just has too much else going for it, and too little to deter those who don’t care a lot about its religious character, for religion to be as big a deal in the overall student experience as it is at BYU. I do think a lot of people are big fans of Notre Dame, and not only of the football team. Notre Dame really is a great place, and it does a good job of cultivating alumni and other loyalties in ways that feature its religious character as one of many threads. My sense is Catholics generally speaking tend to pray for things, but be a good bit less serious about ascribing particular outcomes to divine providence than Mormons are.

    That said, the new president (Fr. John Jenkins) seems to have a more agressive sense of what role religion should play at Notre Dame. So one could read this commercial as a gentle, partly light-hearted way to get out the message that ND really means to provide a higher type of education than is found almost anywhere else.

    I think it would serve BYU well to somehow in PR terms bring “higher” and “education” into a single concept, as this commercial does quite well, if only intuitively. The “higher” part of BYU–its religiosity–is being broadcast pretty well, whether people are persuaded that a BYU spirituality is actually higher or not. But how that actually makes a BYU education better–I think that is something people are less clear on.

  52. LOL, gst. Funny you should say that, I was just going to suggest “Representations” for this beaut: “How ironic that you invoke heuristic discursion in the function/form of a self-subverting meta (non-meta?)-critique.”

  53. My BIL and SIL (Maine-ers) went and visited the admissions office at BYU to ask if putting their son (who is now 10) in private school would help him get into BYU.

    Their response – BYU admissions is completely numerically based. ACT and GPA are the biggest factors in their equation. Living outside of UT and ID does get factored in (but only those 2 states – no Mississippi demarcation). It adds a small number to the equation, but not a lot.

    Giving to the alumni association will not help get their son in. And I quote “Not at the Lord’s University.” Also, when factoring in all the different BYU’s (ID, HI, etc.) acceptance is about 80%. That is all I know.

  54. I guess the admissions office needs to get their story straight on the geography thing. Because they sent one of their guys out here (California) who told the kids they were on a level playing field with kids in Utah and Idaho. He was very clear about it.

  55. Greg: (I think) You asked if Notre Dame is Jesuit. It’s rather the Congregation of the Holy Cross. That’s what the CSC after the names of all the presidents and priests on the board means.

    Lamonte: Dad–sorry to break it to you, but I’m now 30 1/2, not late 20s. Also, BYU may play out of their heads, but did you happen to see the game Saturday? Notre Dame came (more than once) within inches of beating the “best offense in modern college football history”. They now know how good they are, they’re ticked off, and they’re going to take it out on the hapless Cougars. Brandon Hoyte also has a history of harming Mormons.

    About the commercial: I was actually surprised at how many students wrote into the ND school newpaper to complain about the ad. Many of the complaints were simply dumb (e.g. “what about the kids that didn’t get in? Doesn’t God answer their prayers too?”), but in general the comments showed that many students cared a lot about the relationship between Notre Dame and Catholicism. They didn’t want it to be just a cute marketing gimmick.

    Notre Dame isn’t just part of a “franchise” of similar schools. It’s the best Catholic school in the country and in some sense the most Catholic one. First of all the 85% Catholic among the undergrads I think beats BC and Georgetown easily (but I’m not absolutely sure in the case of BC). But I think it’s also “most Catholic” in the sense that it’s more of a cross section of American Catholicism (it includes the various ways in which American Catholics are Catholic) than the other major schools are. (Though I don’t want to fail to give Russell’s alma mater its due on this point…)

  56. Jeremiah (Jeremy) – I know how old you are. It was just a little more efficient to describe both you and Andrew as late twenties. And yes, I believe ND will humiliate BYU this weekend. I was just trying to be courteous to this mostly pro-BYU website. Go Vandals!

  57. Seth – as an example – read Nate Oman’s post of 07/25/2005. Of the 98 comments, most were dripping with sappiness about their wonderful BYU experience. Of course I’m talking about BYU, the school – not the football team. I suppose I have similar feelings about my own alma mater.

  58. I have an idea of a commercial to be played at halftime of the BYU Notre Dame Game:

    A modestly dressed young female student walks slowly, in front of Joyce Center.. at the University of Notre Dame…

    A female voice narrates:

    “During my campus visit to Notre Dame, I began to earnestly pray about which college to attend: BYU or Notre Dame? — I had been accepted to both. suddenly, in a pillar of light, an angel appeared, and the angel spake unto me, saying: ‘Behold the gold, and the silver, and the silks, and the scarlets, and the fine-twined linen, and the precious clothing, and the harlots…Those who attend here know not the name once written in their hearts; they have cast it out, as they would their neighbor’s ass…’

    cut to her standing in front of the Marriot center holding a 9 month old child, speaking to the camera:

    I am now at BYU, completing my degree in Home Economics. My husband and I live in a trailer park in Spanish Fork. Once he finishes his degree in Ancient Scripture Studies, he’s going to work for Private Fuel Storage in Tooele. The Lord, indeed, has blessed us…

    Brother Packer’s voice intones:

    BYU. Choose The Right.

    …. Fade out to sunset over Kennecott Copper… Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing “I’m a Child of God” in the background…

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