Okay. Name the university with the largest student body in North America. Hint: its name is associated with a well-respected sports stadium. With about 420,700 undergraduate students and 78,000 students, that would be the University of Phoenix which is a private, for-profit university. Though it doesn’t have a sports team, it invested in naming rights for the stadium where the Arizona Cardinals play. Above all, the University of Phoenix (UPX) is making news for it’s beyond average spending on advertising and the return on that investment.
While the average university spends a few million dollars on marketing, UPX spent $134 million last year and in the first half of this year, it spent $75 million. In the world of financial data, reports indicate that its revenues are around $2.9 billion so far this year. And after the barrage of depressing statistics, isn’t it great to see positive news from the world of advertising? Unless you’re among those who have been cut off from civilization while deciding between Cable and Dish Network, you’re familiar with those “I am a Phoenix” ads.
Just like the mythological phoenix bird rising from the ashes, it could be argued that UPX is advertising rising from the ashes. But that would be corny, trite or mawkishly melodramatic. Instead, UPX could be an example of smart brand development, where branding is more of a promise. “I am a Phoenix,” connects with the audience of adults who may look at their lives and want more. They’re already working but they want that next promotion. Or they want to show their children they can get that degree.
At the same time, the UPX brand isn’t necessarily viewed in the same light as say, Harvard or Princeton. And that may not matter. If degrees matter anymore, it isn’t known how a UPX degree is valued on a resume. But the ads, recorded inside the stadium, aren’t about academic rigor and excellence. It’s about people following their dreams. And that seems to be a profitable formula.