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New Penn State Sizzle Reel Loses Sight Of The ‘I’ In The ‘We’

In case you somehow missed it jumping through hoops on your Facebook timeline Tuesday, Penn State unveiled a new sizzle reel, which the university suggests we think of as Penn State’s elevator pitch.

“It is designed to convey our size and breadth, our excellence, our impact, and our remarkable community,” the university said online. “It is our hope that after viewing this piece, those outside our fold will be inspired to know more and those who know us well will feel the swell of Penn State pride.”

Although it resembles something that would pop up on your television during a Penn State football game, this isn’t a traditional commercial. It’s a promotional video designed by the university’s brand team to give “a 30,000-foot view of Penn State.” Students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to use it to talk about Penn State at events like those “for prospective, current, and graduating students, student group activities, alumni events, recruitment and recognition events, conferences and presentations, and athletic events.”

There’s apparently no setting too large or small for this video, so get used to seeing it at probably every university-sponsored event far and wide at University Park, throughout the state, and beyond.

And for what?

I get it. “We Are” is Penn State’s most powerful tagline, despite its questionable origins. We Are Penn State. But there’s something off-putting about cheapening the “there will be no meetings” legend to a 90-second sizzle reel. Just the term “sizzle reel” alone sounds like a flashy marketing ploy to sell a sports car, not represent our entire university and its global impact. (Don’t get me started on President Barron’s famed Penn State:sports car analogy.)

The beauty of Penn State might be in the “We,” but only if it’s made up of my “I,” and your “I,” and all of the other “I”s sitting in 100 Thomas or playing frisbee on Old Main Lawn. And every “I” has a story worth telling, a story worthy of inspiring a new audience to “feel the swell of Penn State pride.” The best Penn State story to tell will always be your own — not the one someone else tells you from 30,000 feet up.

Imagine you’re at an event, and the keynote speaker is from Penn State. Would you rather watch a generic video about the university (which, if we’re being honest, could apply to any peer institution, if not for the We Are tie-in), or watch the speaker light up remembering the breakthrough moment they had on campus that led them to their current career?

Exactly.

It doesn’t make sense for me to try to commandeer the sum of these experiences in the interest of conveying what I could speak passionately of on my own. My Penn State story isn’t the same Penn State story as the graduate student conducting research, or the THON director, or the diver, or the Hershey medical student, or the pianist.

One thing we might have in common is deciding on Penn State only after visiting campus, as so many Penn Staters before us have done and so many Penn Staters after us have yet to do. Maybe it was after you heard a particularly fun fact on your tour, or after you attended your first football game, or after you met with a professor who would go on to become your thesis advisor.

But not knowing this was the place for us until we stepped foot onto campus is the one Penn State decision story I’ve heard time and time again. You can’t parse Penn State down to 90 seconds. You need to experience it, which is why so many of us needed a campus visit to realize this was home.

It’s the people that make this place special, not some “high-energy overview” designed to create a disingenuous sense of pride in those who haven’t experienced it for themselves. God forbid the university recognize that some Penn Staters still know how to think for themselves despite the Nittany Lion cult phenomenon they’ve somehow managed to simultaneously denounce and perpetuate.

It’s no Penn State Lives Here or prescribed core values, but a marketing campaign put together by the university, no matter its production quality, will never live up to firsthand accounts by the Penn Staters who have been inspired by the magic of Happy Valley.

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About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa is a senior public relations major and the managing editor of Onward State. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Send questions and comments via e-mail ([email protected]) and follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.

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