Prickly Pear, AZ—At the start of each semester, many colleges allow students a two-week drop/add “shopping period” for trying out courses. Today, Barratt College has announced its latest innovation: a “marketing period,” soon to sweep across the country.
“Shopping without marketing gets you nowhere,” explained Nellie Betervoet, who assumed the presidency of Barratt College after months of campaigning. “Who cares which courses the students are ‘buying,’ if there’s no promotion going on? No, we need in-your-face marketing and relentless TV advertising, so that we can collect data and proactively act on results.”
The physics department, for instance, has spent half a million dollars on a commercial that will be displayed in all dorm buildings and cafeterias. “Bored with lectures?” it begins. “Check this out: in the physics department, we don’t have any!”* (The asterisk alerts the astute viewer to the fine print at the end of the commercial, which reads, “except at the upper levels.”) The camera then shows a large classroom of students working in pods while observing the properties of virtual falling objects on large screens. “Physics is much cooler than art history,” a student says. “In art history, everything stays still. Not here!” At the sound of a whistle (whose innards appear on the screens), the students stand, turn to the camera, and shout together, with fists in the air, “F equals m times a! Sign up for physics today!”
Yet TV advertisements, while essential, cannot stand alone, according to experts. “We’ve got so many sophisticated tools and toolboxes out there,” said one, “we’d be fools not to use them.” Among these, one of the most successful is Look Good™, a peer image manipulation strategy. “We recruit kids who look good, and have them go around campus and Facebook talking about how they’re going to take such-and-such a class. Amazing what that does. It is expensive, though, since you have to get them to take the class at least until the dropping period, for truth-in-advertising purposes.” Thus, it is not unusual to see large groups of lithe theater and dance majors striding across campus and talking conspicuously about how they’re definitely taking electrical engineering.
“It’s actually great for my acting,” said Willow Ruach, known for her gusto in all new and old situations. If I ever play the part of an engineering student, on stage or in film, I’ll know how to say, ‘Hey, did you figure out how to solve that problem about electroquasistatic and magnetoquasistatic fields and boundary conditions?’ I’m actually planning to stick it out through the semester, instead of dropping it midway, which I’m allowed to do for the same pay.” In addition, Ms. Ruach intends to donate her earnings to Code Up, a program for inner-city high school students interested in computer programming.
Not all peer advertisers approach the task with such dedication and virtue. “I’ve been ‘liking’ the s**t out of Econ 101,” admitted Image Studies major Bradley Tumblar, “but I’ll be out of there by the third class. No one notices, especially if the course fills up, which it will, because people think econ helps you make money later on. In fact, I don’t even know why we’re advertising it. It doesn’t have any enrollment problems.”
The answer may have to do with budgets. Well-funded departments have more spending room than, say, Classics departments, which would have to eliminate one of their two faculty positions in order to advertise a course. Indeed, part of the aim of the advertising campaign is to push out courses and departments that just can’t compete. “It’s time to get out of wishy-thinky land,” said Chief Finanial Officer Mark Tikrove. “Sure, it’s nice to have courses with three students, but those courses obviously aren’t needed in the real world, or they’d have more than three students. Simple as that.”
To incentivize success, each year Barratt College will eliminate the two courses and two departments with the least advertising revenue. “Of course, the ones that don’t advertise at all will be the first to go, because we’re all about risk-taking here,” said Betervoet. “You can’t succeed if you don’t give yourself a chance to fail. What, they don’t have the money? That’s no excuse. I’ve seen faculty members dip into their own personal pockets for these campaigns. Whatever it takes, that’s our motto.”