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The Real Problem With ‘Penn State Lives Here’

Anyone who reads this website regularly is probably aware of our mini-crusade against the new “Penn State Lives Here” marketing campaign propagated by Penn State through its brainchild PulsePoint. Between constantly pointing out its lack of originality and all the blunders than came with its lackluster rollout, there has been a certain level of irreverence and snark in our coverage (look no further than the picture above). That sort of commentary has been Onward State’s schtick for a long time, but we only use it with certain topics that shouldn’t be taken so seriously. A stupid looking blue tarp on the side of our library is more bemusing to me than anything else, and so rather than just scream until we’re red in the face, we just didn’t take the campaign very seriously (as, I suspect, most students didn’t) and made fun of it.

But last night, that spirit of bemusement and good-natured heckling went away. Now I’m just angry.

Dubbed the “Explanation Tour” by us, the “Apology Tour” by others, and the “Brand Roadshow” by Penn State, the Alumni Association and University Marketing embarked on a journey across the state to explain the university’s new “North Star” marketing campaign. Steve Garguilo, a Penn State alumnus and friend of the site, made the trip to the tour’s first stop at Penn State Great Valley yesterday in Malvern, PA, and live tweeted most of the presentation.

Through his Tweets, we see that this campaign is not only a big waste of time and resources for our university, but emblematic of a culture in university decision making that is slowly destroying our identity as Penn Staters.

Let’s get started:

This was one of the first slides in the presentation from marketing consultant Jeff Hunt. There’s nothing too significant here, although it is a bit amusing that anyone could think that a “___ Lives Here” slogan, in any way, fits under “Creative Theme.”

Okay, I said I was angry, but I did laugh at the “North Star” reference. Thank you.

The slide above, which claims to enumerate “Penn State’s Strengths and DNA,” is emblematic of everything that is wrong with this campaign. It’s an insult to our intelligence and it fails to account for any sort of uniqueness we share as a community — those things that make us “strong and great” like our founders hoped for in Fred Lewis Pattee’s words. In case it’s hard to see the slide, here’s what it says:

  • A model 21st century land-grant institution
  • Unparalleled breadth of offerings
  • Impressive, accomplished academic depth
  • Invested in student opportunities and success
  • Development of tangible, lifetime values
  • An extraordinary feeling of family, community, place
  • Excellence across the spectrum
  • Service leadership and meaningful impact
  • Unmatched pride and loyalty

Take a look at that list, which was presented by a Penn State vendor at a Penn State Alumni Association sponsored event accompanied by Penn State administrators. Is there a single bullet point on that list that makes Penn State stand out from any of the other 1o6 land-grant institutions in the United States? Of course, Penn State fits all the criteria, but is there a single item on that list (save for the land-grant distinction) that any other college in the Big Ten wouldn’t claim to exemplify as well? Any marketing company in the world could take this list to any semi-respectable university, change the name at the top, and it would have the same impact (read: no impact).

So what are Penn State’s real strengths — our actual DNA? Those things are too numerous to adequately list. Most of all, we have an immeasurable spirit that is chiefly unique to the people who have come to know it in this Happy Valley. Publicly spirited men like Evan Pugh, George Atherton, and Joe Paterno, along with generations of Penn Staters, have created a Penn State spirit that can be felt far and wide throughout this town and campus. When you walk by where Old Willow used to stand — Penn State’s first real tradition — you can feel it inside you. When you look up at the sun rising above Mount Nittany on a beautiful morning, and realize how many thousands of other Penn Staters have experienced that same feeling since 1855 — now that’s our shared identity.

It is through the success of our students that this spirit continues to resonate, which a keen appreciation for our history. Look at all the students doing incredible things in THON, the Lunar Lion, TEDxPSU, State of State, or any one of the hundreds of Penn State student groups or athletic teams on campus. These students — not influenced or organized by administrators or marketers — are what define our strength and DNA.



Inspired doers? This is the first unique element of the presentation, and it’s because no one actually uses the term “inspired doers” to describe anything.

I will again copy this slide down, if for no other reason but to fully appreciate its absurdity.

“Students, faculty, administrators, staff, alumni and any in the Penn State community who combine personal ambition and perseverance with passion for a larger purpose and a commitment to service. They are focused on learning and achievement, and they are hard-working builders: of careers, families, communities and institutions. As a group, they are inspired by goals that bridge the divide between individual achievement and social benefit, and are strongly motivated by a sense of gratitude and desire to give back.”

  • Well rounded
  • Optimistic
  • Can Do
  • Honesty/Integrity
  • Altruistic
  • Hard Working
  • Humble
  • Passionate
  • Genuine
  • Collaborative

How did this require any research or effort whatsoever? Simply insert any university in the country where Penn State is in the first sentence and the list would apply to almost every institution.

We don’t want catch phrases or public relations nonsense from administrators or marketing companies to tell US who WE are. We know our own identity, just as generations of Penn Staters who walk through the Allen Street Gates come to know their identity, too.

Old Main needs to allow our remarkable student body promote itself. We, as Penn State students and alumni, understand our identity. But do our leaders — those same leaders that have so willingly cheapened our identity into a vapid four-word phrase — understand it?

At least it’s not all doom and gloom:

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About the Author

Kevin Horne

Kevin Horne was the editor of Onward State from 2012-2014 and currently holds the position of Managing Editor Emeritus, which is a fake title he made up. He graduated from Penn State with degrees journalism and political science in 2014 and is currently seeking his J.D. at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law. A third generation Penn Stater from Williamsport, Pa., Kevin is also the president of the graduate student government. Email: [email protected]

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