Thousands of high school students on the hunt for a college received an unexpected surprise in their mailboxes over the summer from William & Mary.
William & Mary’s new Ampersandbox offers an alternative to the College’s main recruitment tool, its viewbook, in the form of 15 unique postcards. Together, the packaging, made from recyclable cardboard, and the eco-friendly postcards measure less than seven inches tall and five inches wide.
“There’s a war that goes on in everybody’s mailbox and in everybody’s email inbox,” said Dean of Admission Henry Broaddus. “It’s about what gets noticed by the students, what really gets their attention.”
In the technological age of iPads, smartphones and apps, the box is simple. And so is the idea.
On the front, a graceful pairing of words floating in the background espouses a gigantic green ampersand. Each postcard uses a photo and two-word colloquialism to explore and highlight the College’s many distinctive strengths.
The first postcard on the stack, for example, is a photo of William & Mary’s mascot, the Griffin. The word pair “Naked & Friendly” is boldly centered in all caps. Flip the card over and a snippet of text talks about the uniqueness of the student body and encourages prospective students to “come as you are.” It takes no longer than two minutes to read.
The creative ampersand box is already getting national media attention. Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education wrote a story on how colleges across the nation are re-thinking the role of viewbooks, and included William & Mary’s Ampersandbox as one example.
William & Mary spent about two years developing the concept and hopes a new print form will make them stand out among the multitude of standard admission view books mailed out each summer like clockwork. The campaign also has a web counterpart, to provide online interaction.
Through the multimedia Ampersandbox, prospective students can view the postcards online and explore websites depicting life at William & Mary. Students are also encouraged to submit their own ideas to add to the word pair collection. So far, there are more than 75 new entries submitted from prospective students, alumni and faculty and staff.
“We really thought about this concept from the angle of what would print look like if it was truly an integrated print and online communications strategy that took advantage of interactive capabilities and user-generated content,” said Broaddus.
So many times, he said, universities spend large sums of money on the print view book and the online marketing is an afterthought.
W&M’s Office of Undergraduate Admission and Creative Services partnered to create both the print and web Ampersandbox. Broaddus said the internal collaboration was utterly essential to complete the project.
Senior Associate Dean of Admission Tim Wolfe said the uptick in creative marketing strategies to capture the attention of students starting the college search process is causing universities to re-evaluate how their viewbooks should be presented.
Hamilton College in New York, for example, is sending high schools large posters containing only a large QR code, said Wolfe. Students scan the barcode using their smartphones and are automatically uploaded to the institution’s website.
“It’s a risk, a bit of a gamble,” said Wolfe. But the black-and-white square sparks curiosity, he said.
Wendy Livingston, senior assistant dean of admission, said the College tested the Ampersandbox prototype on current students. Students liked the fact that it was different, said Livingston, and that they hadn’t seen anything of this “digestible size” in their mailboxes.
“The students felt the postcards were a way to talk about all the different aspects of William & Mary in a way that showed the personality, intellect and quirkiness that our students embody,” she said.
William & Mary alumni were also asked to contribute to the Ampersandbox project, said Livingston. In October 2011, the Admission Office asked alumni to share a word pair that defined their experiences at the College. Four new postcards were featured in the Winter 2011 issue of the Alumni Magazine, which included submissions from a recent graduate and from class members who graduated in the 1970s and ’80s. There’s even one from the Class of 1957.
All of which goes to show that both the young & old can enjoy playing in the sandbox.