School Branding Over the Decades


I've been watching "Mad Men" reruns recently.
They made me think deeply about how marketing & branding have evolved over the decades.

Here are Madison Avenue's themes since the 1950s:

  • 50s - Comfort, Lifestyle & Security (baby boom, Levittown, nuclear fear,  Golden Age of Television, Coca Cola & Pan Am Ads, early days of consumerism)
  • 60s - Nonconformity (footage of the Vietnam War, hippies, civil rights movement, protests, rock 'n roll, end of empire)
  • 70s - Trust (Nixon - Watergate, New York City blackout, politics of oil, Iran Hostage Crisis, 1st HIV outbreak)
  • 80s - Freedom & Independence (collapse of communism, end of the Cold War, Reagan/Thatcher & the triumph of Liberalism, Nelson Mandela release, birth of the internet)
  • 90s - Globalization (tech outbreak, first web browser- Mosaic, IBM's home & office computing revolution, mob phones, the spread of wireless tech, job outsourcing, birth of the EU)
  • 00s - Vanity (rising inequality, 2008 financial collapse)
  • 10s - Storytelling (sustaining attention in a whirlwind of digital stimuli)

Since the 50s education across the US has been caught up in the same trends.
That's to say that over the three decades following the end of WWII we were focused on the basics:

  • 50s - Setting Standards (desegregation, school shortages as a result of the baby boom, the effect of TV, first ACT administered)
  • 60s - Federal Takeover (federal aid, new diverse scholastic programs - social sciences, languages, arts, further desegregation)
  • 70s -  Academic Performance (plunge in test scores sparks debate over educational structure between memorization vs. inquiry-based learning)

Since the 80s the US Education system has trended towards hyper-fragmentation. Population growth, technology outbreak, and deregulation have all helped increase educational options for parents.

As we stand today, and if the current trends continue, we should expect the traditional school system to continue to evolve, with parents having a growing set of options to choose from.

In this context,  all school leaders should prepare to fight for their right to exist.

What does this mean in practice?

You must intimately understand your market and what your prospective parents are looking for.
In the fast-paced, cutthroat world of K-12 education, you must also be willing to continuously question your programs and challenge yourself as well as your staff. You must be willing to try out many ideas, knowing that some will flop. Taking calculated risks and accepting the possibility of failure is necessary for a growing school.
In the long run, experimentation will always pay off; your few big successes will outweigh dozens of smaller defeats.