Monday, June 16, 2008

Brand Stanford

Stanford University debuted its own YouTube channel today. I like it a lot.

Watching a video of Oprah Winfrey’s commencement speech from Sunday, then a talk on sticking with good-but-failing-to-generate-ROI ideas by Google’s Marissa Mayer, I was struck by three things.

The first was a shockingly precise memory of watching Sesame Street as a kid. At the start of each video, a few soothing guitar chords sound and a woman warmly intones, “This program is brought to you by Stanford university. Please visit us at Stanford-dot-e-d-u.” It’s a ringer for the PBS funding mantra that ends with “viewers like you” that capped every Sesame Street episode I ever watched. How nice, I thought. I will visit Stanford-dot-e-d-u.

The second was an appreciation for the diversity of content – although that depends on your definition of diversity, I’ll concede. Various shades of famous, inspirational or otherwise brilliant speakers might not strike some as diverse. (Where’s the footage of freshmen taking Jell-o shots or wily pranksters floating sofas in Lake Lag?)

And the third was the unmistakable branding going on. STANFORD right at the start of the video. And STANFORD again at the end, in case you missed it.

It makes sense. Stanford generates an immense amount of content – more than a million Web pages, according to Scott Stocker, director of web communications. Fewer videos of course, but I bet still quite a bit of action what with all the bold-font-worthy folks coming to speak. Why not try to grab the bull by the horns and brand it? After all, Stanford went to the trouble of inviting those noteworthy people to speak. And they pay those clever minds to work there. They deserve the recognition.

Stoker acknowledged the branding aspect. People often forward videos of Stanford events to their friends, he said, and explained, “We don't want that connection to get lost that this content is coming from Stanford, that this talk that they're listening to is coming from Stanford University.”

Since its 2005 debut on iTunes, the school has used the short, five-second branding intro, he said.

But the most important aim is to further the school’s educational mission by spreading Stanford content, he said. How nice for all the rest of us. (No sarcasm there, honest.)

While we’re on the topic, the entrepreneurship resource page run by the Stanford Technology Ventures Program has a wealth of video clips, many fascinating and all better than watching the Celtics lose to the Lakers.

The next big Stanford web project is a redesigned home page and a redesigned admissions page. It’ll be unveiled sometime this summer, according to Stocker.

Then we'll see the main page that silky-voiced, PBS-reminiscent woman is recommending we visit. Some small part of me is hoping Stanford's Web designers decide to greet the world and lure prospective students with something like: "Stanford University is made possible by Web browsers like you."

We'll just have to wait and see.

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