University of Phoenix Touts the Pride of Its Students in New Campaign

Work From 180LA Aims to Shift Public Perception of Online Education

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University of Phoenix aims to turn around the public perception of the for-profit online school as a "diploma mill" with its latest campaign, "We Rise."

Created by 180LA, the campaign is the school's first creative effort since January 2015 and highlights the pride of its current students and alumni, who are typically working adults with families. Launched days after the announcement that the Apollo Education Group -- the university's parent company-- is going to be sold to a private equity company, the campaign shifts UOP's focus from enrollment to retention.

"We wanted to show the determination of a typical student who wants to get a degree while working and taking care of his or her family," said Chris Mendola, 180LA's founder and chairman.

"Our alumni are fiercely proud of their degrees and what they accomplished," added Joan Blackwood, the university's chief marketing officer.

The main TV spot features several scenes inspired by students' real stories -- working mothers, farmers, army veterans, and waitresses juggling books and assignments on break, as a modified version of the "Wizard of Oz" tune "If I Only Had a Brain" provides the soundtrack, informing the hardships the students face to get their degrees and calling out to employers: "You're going to want someone like me, but only if you have a brain."

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Other pieces of the campaign, which includes out-of-home and print, are social videos that show successful alumni debunking claims from social media that the school "gives you a degree and a higher GPA... all you've gotta do is show up."

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This approach is aligned with the university's new business metrics and general institutional turnaround after the government tightened the grip on the for-profit education industry. The bad publicity allied to the general economy's improvement, which drives less people to look for higher education, also took a toll on enrollment, which fell from over half a million students five years ago to 201,400 now.

"I firmly believe in focusing on new students is the wrong way to go about this," said Ms. Blackwood, who's been at UOP since last April after stints at Zumba, 1-800-Contacts and According to her, UOP is shifting toward retention, which means they are giving the students the support and tools they need to get past the critical first year and graduate. And that also means bolstering their self-esteem.

This is 180LA's first effort since the agency took on the account and, according to Mr. Mendola, the concept of "We Rise" came from the sheer determination he and his partners saw in the student body and alumni. They wanted to convey that to the world and prospective employers. "They are determined, smart, passionate people. How can they be overlooked?" he said.

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