Smile Politely

Our state? Our team?

This past week the University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics announced a new “marketing campaign” for the upcoming year. “ILLINOIS. OUR STATE. OUR TEAM” will be the foundation for the new theme for UI Athletics and “will be displayed within advertising and marketing campaigns around the state.”

Let’s put aside the apparently forgettable fact that Illinois has not one but two Big Ten teams. For now.

This marketing campaign screams boardroom politicking and branding. It has a feel that it was created by ad men, approved by administrative executives, and green-lighted by the legal team. It’s no secret to those familiar to the U of I scene that for the past decade or so, the University of Illinois administration has been working hard and fast to brand the University as an “Illinois” product. Most likely, this is one more step in the process.

Similar to when it distanced itself from the now retired symbol of the University, the Chief, this move probably won’t bode well. Despite how you might feel about the Chief (personally, I never cared for it), I can’t imagine this changing the feelings of many. In fact, the wholly generic and corporate feel of this theme is only going to make Chief supporters clamor for it that much more. I can hardly blame them.

“ILLINOIS. OUR STATE. OUR TEAM” has a distant, all-encompassing, “offending no one to the point of alienating everyone” feel that won’t appeal to those who are searching for a new identity for the Illini Nation.

It has been suggested in the media that this marketing strategy is a direct response to Northwestern University’s claim that they are “Chicago’s Big Ten Team.” How original. Not that I’m giving NU a free pass. As someone who covers Illini sports, I know a good portion of the U of I’s athletes and students come from the Chicago area. Mark Tupper, the author of the above article, says this attempt will “make Illini fans giggle while making Northwestern fans snarl.”

More likely, it will make them both roll their eyes.

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