Coming soon to a cinema near you

It’s that time of the year again, when Canadian universities strive to find the strategies that will convert their offers of admission into confirmations of acceptance. This year, taking a page from its own book of bold approaches, York is launching a “theatre domination” ad campaign and hoping for rave reviews from prospective students. The first phase premiered in Famous Players and Cineplex cinemas across the GTA on Friday, April 15.

Left and below: Two of the new advertisements that will appear in GTA theatres

York is mounting the first fully-integrated university branding campaign in Canada to target young moviegoers directly in theatres, continuing its leading-edge approach to communicating with future students during the crucial applications period. Last year, as part of a broader campaign, York went for “subway domination” by taking over all print advertising space in busy St. George station.

The new print and screen campaign will involve advertising domination of the GTA’s five largest theatres, augmented by on-screen ads in additional theatres, back-lit advertisements on TTC subways, streetcars and buses, and print advertisements in The Globe and Mail newspaper, Maclean’s magazine and Famous magazine.

“York is redefining the way that students select and identify with a university,” says Richard Fisher, York’s chief communications officer. “The medium is a large part of the message – it shows we’re creative, open-minded and in step with the real world.”

The campaign, which showcases York as the interdisciplinary university, will play at 33 theatres across the GTA, on a total of 365 screens, during the months of April and May. Moviegoers will see a 30-second York University ad on-screen before the film, in the section that has in the past been devoted to movie trivia.  The spots manipulate three different symbols with a voice-over that asks, “What do you see?” In the spot featuring an “x”, the ad highlights that a mathematician sees an algebra equation. The x then morphs into a cross and the ad states that a nurse sees healthcare. The x morphs again and is merged with an “o” to form the symbol for woman. The spot states that a social scientist sees a revolution. To see the ads, click here (#1), here (#2) and here (#3).

“Students are wired differently nowadays and they get their messages from different sources,” says Laurence Boucher, director of the account direction unit of York’s Communications Division, which is implementing the campaign. “The whole concept takes York’s interdisciplinary approach to the students in a unique medium with student-friendly messages.”

That medium is huge. Five Famous Players theatres – Paramount, Colossus, Empress Walk, Yorkdale and Richmond Hill – will be dominated by York University branding over a period of eight weeks. Over two million theatre patrons will be greeted by in-lobby banners, backlit posters, and “floor cling” ads, promoting the University’s interdisciplinary approach and encouraging prospective students to redefine themselves by choosing York. A full-page ad will also also run in Famous Players’ magazine, Famous.


The in-theatre ads, created by Toronto’s doug agency, will build on the success of last year’s subway campaign, designed to raise awareness of the university’s unique academic offerings and of the need for an extension of the Spadina subway to the Keele campus. For one month, St. George station was entirely devoted to York’s reputational messaging, backed by newspaper ads. (See the May 4, 2004 issue of YFile.)

“We’re really trying to reach out to prospective students by integrating ourselves and our brand into their world,” Fisher says. “Nearly three-quarters of all 18-to-24-year-olds in the GTA will go out to the movies at least once during the course of this campaign.”

Doug Robinson, principal of the doug agency, says, “The great thing about the campaign is that it gets right to the heart of the academic product, then takes that message to the audience in a truly creative way.”

The interdisciplinary message contained in the advertisements fits well with the way young people perceive the world, says Boucher. “They have grown up with computers and instant messaging as well as the movies, and they sense they will need a different kind of education than the one their parents received.”

The campaign comes at a critical time for young people considering their futures. “Some students will be seeking out information in Grade 11 so that they can make the right course selections for Grade 12, some will be finding it hard to determine between competitive offers from different universities,” says Boucher. “Our goal is to make sure they understand what York University is all about so that they can make an informed decision.”

The in-theatre ad campaign is part of York’s innovative approach to recruitment, focused on welcoming and integrating future students into the York community. For the third consecutive year York University had an increase in the number of secondary school applicants for September who designated York as their first choice. Most significantly, York’s increase in share of first-choice applicants was twice that of the market as a whole – increasing 5.2 per cent versus a 2.5 per cent increase for other Ontario universities.

York’s unique recruitment vehicles include home visits to star applicants, and a special March Break gala for future students. Of the 6,000 prospective students in attendance at this year’s gala, 70 per cent of those surveyed said they were likely to choose York based on this event. The University’s innovative E-Party allows more than 15,000 applicants to tour the school and e-chat. York is also the first university to recruit online via the ABEL (Advanced Bandwidth Enhanced Learning) program, which allows for interactive outreach sessions to schools in York Region and Northern Ontario. York also recruits internationally, in 22 countries and eight US states.

“These innovative efforts are paying off as more students give ‘two thumbs up’ to York U,” says Robert Tiffin, acting vice-president students. “For the upcoming 2005-2006 academic year, the current trend in admission acceptances is tracking higher than last year for our top prospective students.”