HRB00

PICKUP A BUSINESS MAGAZINE and cut out all the B-school ads to determine which knows the A-B-C’s of business like positioning, audience segmentation, competitive analysis, product definition and sales strategy. Also, apply the 3-Second Advertising Rule (look for jut 3 seconds) to see how effectively they convey their message.

MARCH, 2010: I did just this with the Harvard Business Review while waiting for a flight at Denver Airport. Here’s what I found:

PAGE 7, MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY ➔

Michigan had a clever headline but their message went right by me as I didn’t care to read the fineprint. In fact, the only reason I knew it was a B-school ad was because I was re-skimmed the magazine looking for B-school ads.

Now I was taught that selling a solution to a negative is more compelling than selling to a positive benefit. In this case, their position simply doesn’t punch any angsts or rub any sweet spots. That, in combination with some pretty poor graphic design make this ad suck.

On the point of graphic design, their’s simply doesn’t help as the headline could have been reinforced with a picture. Like may be a tree top with juicy fruits. Or a good-looking biz student/professional person reaching up to pick a sweet fruit. Further, the fineprint could have been made more readable by cutting the copy and providing higher text contrast, especially the yellow “Ross School of Business.”

The Grade? Hmmm... I don’t want to be a butt, but my butt tells me their’s is in the bottom half… Butt read on…

↵ PAGE 13, WHARTON

Wharton crosses their t’s and dots their i’s in this ad. They do a pretty decent job in defining their product. And they successfully target and talk to executive program candidates. Even better, they only bought 3/4 of the page so did their message more cost-effectively that Michigan.

But their headline BORING… like a yard teacher’s scolding. It’s b-o-r-i-n-g. This ad is actually the antithesis of Michigan’s. Michigan starts with a nice emotional statement but doesn’t deliver the left-brain intellectual goods. This ad on the other hand is all left-brain without much emotional appeal.

Now Wharton might argue that many business people are left-brainers, but the fact is that the best candidates are well-balanced people and almost all of us are really more right-brainers. If you like the movies, you have a strong taste for right-brain emotional stuff.

And what’s up with the “best leaders” fading away? Heck, it oughta jump out at you like a President trying to pass a healthcare initiative.

The Grade: S for “Stiff” Try a few drinks or ‘shrooms and try it again.

PAGE 17, STANFORD ➔

This, and the next ad, are what precipitated this post. Now I’ve never been a Stanford fan (I’m a UC Berkeley grad) but I gotta hand it to the Tree Guys: their ad rocks. They know their audience, they get the product description right and they even do it cheap with a 3/4 page ad.

This ad identifies the angst of recessionary times, defines a solution and gives hope for the future – in just 3 words. Read it and you’ll find your head wagging like a piece of ceramic on a spring in the back dashboard of your car.

But wait! There’s more! Stanford really raises the stakes by placing a pic of a young-ish blond hot chick with fake glasses and still perky boobs smiling at you… AS IF, Stanford… we know your rep… but OK, it works.

Only minor negative: The color scheme looks more like USC (maroon and gold) than Stanford (red and white)… whoops…

The Grade: A-

↵ PAGE 37, ST. LOUIS (WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY)

Th placement of this ad after Stanford’s makes it a big “whoops.” B-schools teach the theory of 4 P’s: Product, Place, Promotion and Price… and well, St. Louis pretty much failed on the third P which results in a rather embarrassing, “me too” headline.

Their terms aren’t as good as Stanford’s either… and they have no hot babe in their ad. May be a younger, hotter, blonder, bigger boobed chick with bigger glasses would have saved it…

The Grade: “O” In this context, a big goose egg… but check out HBR in future editions to see if St Louis evolves their position or winds up with more egg on their face.

PAGE 51, HARVARD ➔

Harvard had the home court advantage as this was their own magazine. Which means that they were uniquely positioned to study all the competitor ads and placements before finalizing their own. It should have been an easy score… But it looks like they tried to punt and fumble at the same time.

This as is like a bad Rorshach. I first saw a big question mark so I was like, “huh?” Then I thought, “oh may be it’s supposed to be a dollar sign – but it’s backwards – then it occurred to me that may be it’s a cross promotion with their ESL program… I dunno, I must not be Harvard material ’cause I don’t get it.

The Grade: “H” for a resounding, “Huh?”

↵ PAGE 109, AMERICAN COLLEGE

I dunno much about this school, but apparently you get to go sailing... now that’s a good way to become a leader in financial services!

The Grade: “T” for tack… or tacky.

PAGE 125, CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY ➔

Correct me if I’m wrong, but this small ad, in all it’s generic glory, stuck in the back of a $16.95/issue magazine, doesn’t seem to be very well positioned to capture the kind of folks that read the Harvard Business Review.

The Grade: “R” for Repeat business school – hopefully to get your 3 R’s… Retool. Rethink. Rebound.

BOTTOM LINE: As far as which school know business, the overwhelming vote goes to Stanford… but if you want to go there, know that the women don’t look like the ad, the tuition is crazy high… and most importantly, you’ll never be able to live down THE PLAY…  just kidding… NOT!

Go Bears! :)

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2 Responses to “Do B-Schools Practice What They Preach?”

  1. Damian Davila

    Excellent article.

    One small suggestion: it took me a while to find the share button! I really wanted to tweet this and I’m used to find the “share toolbar” either at the beginning or end (or both!) of the article. The position of the share toolbar is a bit out of the ordinary.

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