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Lights! Camera! Idaho! Vandals! Campaign To Give School An Image Make-Over


The Seattle film producer eyes the light filter casting shadows on University of Idaho artist David Giese, as the camera slowly rolls toward his fresco.

Giese brushes dust from the piece he’s preparing for a New York show as filming wraps up in the dingy grain warehouse at the campus edge. He’s got one simple request: When choosing background music, he pleads, please, anything but Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”

Giese, chairman of the UI’s art department, sells his works for thousands of dollars back East.

The UI is hoping Giese’s image - captured in a 60-second commercial with dozens of other campus snapshots - will do the same for them in Idaho.

Tune into network television come November. The University of Idaho’s marketing savvy is showing.

The historically stodgy school is embarking on a slick ad campaign chock full of emotional images intended to tug at baby boomers’ heartstrings.

The aim of its $200,000 yuppie chic advertising blitz is no secret.

“The goal … is to produce students, votes and financial gifts,” reads the university’s ad campaign policy guideline. An hour of filming in Giese’s studio will likely be edited down to a three-second glimpse of the school’s liberal arts programs.

Boise ad agency Elgin Syferd Drake and Seattle’s MagicHour Film Productions spent all last week in Moscow filming images they think will sell higher education - research breakthroughs, an accomplished art professor, living accommodations for a handicapped dorm student, the dapper college frosh tossing a Frisbee on his way to class.

The target audience? Idahoans age 35-64, upper- and middle-income folks who attended or graduated from college and are professionals or managers.

They are “involved in their community and intellectually engaged.” Ideally, they’re also the parents of college-bound students who are considering going out of state.

The UI is targeting these residents, because they largely have the ear of regional legislators who will stand up for what their constituents want funded, UI President Robert Hoover explained this week. “One can’t cry about the fact that we’re not being supported by someone or another. One has to educate people about why you are important.”

An image study conducted last year showed most Idahoans think of the UI as a remote, isolated party school. There’s some truth to that. The UI, with its thriving residential campus, has more liquor law violations than any other school in the state. Though the UI has centers in the state’s major cities, its main campus became more isolated this fall when Horizon Air announced it was pulling its Moscow-to-Boise air service.

But the campaign’s director, Bob Hieronymous, says the UI isn’t trying to deny it is a party school far from city life. “We want to tell more about who we are,” Hieronymous said.

For three to five years, the UI will measure how the ad campaign influences enrollment, public opinion and financial support.

Hoover hopes three images will come to the minds of opinion leaders and taxpayers when they think of Idaho’s land grant institution: Academics, statewide service and the economic impact of research on the state.

Warren Lassen, creative director at Elgin Syferd Drake, considers the UI a plum assignment.

“It’s not like selling french fries,” Lassen said. “This is rich with inspiration.”

Lassen spent hours with Hoover’s marketing department, recruiters and faculty members. They reviewed image campaigns at the University of Nevada, Reno, Hoover’s old stomping grounds, Colorado State University and Indiana University.

“The thing an outside agency brought to this was an outside perspective, which is woefully lacking at most universities,” Hieronymous said. Lassen said one of the UI’s biggest challenges is that there are many new people in the Boise area who know little about the school “up north.”

“There’s been a lot of growth in southern Idaho, and a lot of the newcomers don’t have the same perceptions as someone who’s a native and knows the history of the institution,” Lassen said.

The television commercial will run this year in Boise and Lewiston markets, next year in Idaho Falls and Spokane markets, which includes North Idaho. In addition, the UI is buying newspaper ads and full-page color magazine ads to be used in Spokane and Boise’s subscriber-only editions of Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated and U.S. News and World Report.

At airports in Spokane, Moscow, Lewiston, Boise, Twin Falls and Idaho Falls, travelers might see billboards with these themes: “A traditional setting for an education that is anything but old school” or “We’ve taken research and education out of the ivory tower and achieved some pretty down to earth results.”

Most of the UI faculty supports the image campaign, though they plan to hold Hoover responsible for truth in advertising.

“If paying for the image takes away from the substance, that’s a problem,” Faculty Council Chairman William Voxman said. “Clearly there needs to be a balance.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo