Posted by Abe Sauer on March 12, 2010 10:41 AM
Just like any institution that trades on a product and a reputation, law schools have brands. That most law schools similarly promote and build their brands via traditional messaging and conventional channels should come as no surprise. Lately though, Cornell University Law School objects to – and moves to strike! – this characterization.
A month after a Wall Street Journal piece pondered the notion "Why Cornell Law School is like Lady GaGa," the school itself has released an ad campaign with a celebrity spokesman. A fictional celebrity spokesman.
Cornell's new spokesman is Andy Bernard, the fictional goofball and sometimes pompous academic from the hit show The Office. As anyone who watches the show knows, Bernard went to Cornell and brags about it incessantly. The law school's website features a number of testimonials from Cornell graduates. One of them is Bernard and highlights his quotes from the show, including "Cornell is an excellent school. Without it's agricultural program, we probably wouldn't have cabbage – at least not modern cabbage."
The Cornell brand benefits from the move in a big way. The campaign strikes the perfect note of mirth and self-conscious playfulness. By selecting a character so popular and yet so absurd, the brand's fresh approach to a dowdy subject should increase its profile. It can't hurt. While a handful of students have been put off by the ad, it has been applauded by most as a demonstration of an admirable sense of humor. As one commentor put it, "If you don't know how to take a joke, then you are either probably (a) suffering from some form of inferiority complex as a result of having enrolled at a not so great law school, or (b) so stuck up that you can't even read between the lines and appreciate the humor in the school's advertising."
Now, we will have to see if Harvard Law enlists Elle Woods.