We had three goals for this piece: introduce a high-end Executive MBA program; write copy at an aspirational level, leaving the details for follow-up pieces; and have it in the Dean’s hands for his international tour in four weeks. We had some thoughts on how to make a single piece of paper say, “I’m worth $130,000+ and an investment of two years of your life.”
We reviewed other MBA programs to determine how they approached marketing their programs, both visually and conceptually. Among those that stood out, we found one with photos of its building on the cover and one with faded silhouettes. Neither presented a very strong point or unique position in the market.
We then interviewed Assistant Dean Peter Rodriquez and Admission Director Sara Neher to gather relevant information about the new GEMBA program, and about Darden’s historical strengths in general. We discovered that Darden has a brilliant alumni community with a handful of alums in high-profile, global companies and that Darden is one of only two schools in the country that provide instruction entirely in the case study method pioneered by Harvard. We uncovered that Darden has received numerous top rankings from national and international publications for a variety of metrics.
With so much competition and so little time to impress, our goal was to communicate to people the essence of Darden within 5 seconds. We organized our primary content around the three main points that are unique to Darden and published those clearly and boldly on the inside spread. We kept copy on the cover to the bare minimum to let the full impact of the image play out. The next text a viewer sees is a short, isolated sentence superimposed over a faint image of an inspirational Thomas Jefferson statue on the Darden grounds.
1. Photo cropping and manipulation
We needed the right face on the cover of this piece. Since the program was just forming we wanted to front-load its credibility. Jerry Peng, an alumni of Darden’s MBA program, was selected. He is an executive at a global company and is a great success story in general. The original image is a beautiful, symmetrical shot but it was in landscape orientation rather than portrait, as we needed. The two options were to shrink it to fit and fill in the white space on the paper, or to crop it. We chose to crop it tightly and give Jerry a very strong, oversized presence. He is aligned along the left ‘third’ of the page, a physical location on the page with natural, geometrically-derived dominance. We desaturated the color of the scene surrounding Jerry to make it drop away into the background to further increase his visual prominence in the scene. This served to balance the composition in a classical figure-and-ground arrangement. The desaturation effect also allows the scene to move slightly away from everyday reality and into a place more accessible by our imagination.
2. Large impact, low cost
The second big thing we did was add some physical dimension to the piece. The original directive was to produce a single-page flier since details about the program were scant. To match the impressive nature of the program, we recommended adding another panel with a fold. That allows for interaction with the piece beyond a simple flip; the viewer must engage with it.
We went a step further with another short flap. The extra flap presents a surprise and then a moment of anticipation as the viewer realizes there’s something else to discover beyond the fold. Inside the flap is another oversized image of a highly-engaged student – standing, talking and gesturing. Very memorable.
This is now a physically engaging and mentally engaging piece. Fewer than 1 in 10 brochures have unusual folds. These inexpensive and unexpected moves made the GEMBA brochure stand out at first glance and allowed Darden to make a direct impression in readers’ minds with three distinct points.