When students attend an institution for 4 years in a row, there are only a few key moments and events that stand out; even fewer of those are school sanctioned events. Trollstock is an annual talent show getting its name from the school mascot, the Troll, and the widely know music festival, Woodstock. Put on by Trinity Christian College Student Activities, a student-run events organization, Trollstock is one of the most anticipated events every year.
The Trollstock 2013 design was a means to engage students in Trinity Christian College’s annual talent show by setting it apart from previous years. Carving out its own place in the students’ minds, the design goals were to get students to interact socially with the marketing collateral leading up to and during the event, negate any budget losses consistent with previous years, and make that year’s annual event unique for returning students. These goals were determined by myself and the Student Activities team.
Being at a liberal arts college in the Chicagoland area, the students are very aware of quality design. The aesthetic from the city inspires the art department and trickles into the blood flow of campus. While other on-campus marketing shouted for students’ attention, the Trollstock 2013 design required it. This blue ocean strategy, a strategy so distinct as to not be in competition anymore, set the design apart from everything else in the field. The strategy was to give them an exciting design approach that they hadn’t seen before and let them interact with it. Knowing that students wanted the information about the event, we put it right in front of them, only cryptically.
There were three deadlines: the call for entries, the auditions, and the actual talent show. This led to the release of multiple posters, all created with the designed symbols. Each wave of marketing released a bit more information about the event—a sort of piecemeal approach. We did this so students would not be overwhelmed with the amount of decoding they would have to do, and to establish a social discourse leading up to the event.
To satisfy the event objectives, we needed to create a symbol system that had no outside reference or key. The characters retained many of the ideas of conventional typography, maintaining the dynamism of roman letterforms. By creating a new symbol system, the students would be able to link it to Trollstock 2013 alone without seeing the reference elsewhere. It also allowed us to keep track of who had the key for decoding the messages. Only the students attending Trinity Christian College that 2013-2014 school year know why the symbols were created and how to read them on the shirts that they still wear today. The first wave of marketing presented the symbols uniformly across campus, black symbols on a white background. This was the plainest way to introduce the students to a whole new language. They also came with individual lined spaces directly relating to the letter forms above. These lines became the place for students to write down the letters as they decoded them.
The media had to be printed by the school within the Student Activities Marketing Budget. This limited the delivery method to posters, stickers, shirts and the website. The delivery method was natural for the students and helped cushion the shock of the new symbols. Accustomed to seeing marketing materials in major walkways, the students were comfortable when they had to write on the posters for event information.
One month before the event, the designs were released. The first wave included a symbol key slid under the door of every dorm room on campus, 25 posters with the message calling for auditions posted in the most popular walkways, and guerilla-style stickers plastering campus. The key allowed students to glean information from the posters which had a place to hold said information. The stickers functioned to create a recognizable first two lines of the posters, always reading “trollstock”. Over the course of a month, the students started to recognize the word “trollstock” in the symbol system, filling it out without aid from the key before decoding the rest of the message.
T-shirt sales started two weeks before the event and featured the same symbol pattern as the stickers, reading “trollstock”. The shirts emulated other marketing materials, adhering to the symbols and colors branding the event.
There may have been doubt from the Student Activities team about the design, but it was not expressed and the design was completely accepted and initiated. The design was a radical departure from any other visual and informational means used prior. On the other hand, the media used was a natural evolution using past marketing techniques as well as new including guerilla-style stickers and a more refined website.
The solution was received extremely well by users. 80% of posters on campus were consistently filled out with each new message, showing that students interacted with the marketing. Student Activities had budgeted to lose $500 on t-shirt sales based on previous years’ sales and ended up making $75 instead. The event hashtag, #trollstock13, trended nationally on Twitter the night of the event. During the event, 1200 students packed into the auditorium for the talent show which is 90% of the on-campus student body. According to Jungle Media between 6pm and 12am (the time of the event) it takes about 1900 tweets and about 922 users to trend nationally. That translates to at least 75% of students at the event engaging on social media more than once.
The solution and student interaction vastly exceeded our expectations. We had set an award to be given to the student with the 100th tweet containing the tag #trollstock13 and by the time the mc’s were able to calculate which student that was, the tweets numbered 1400-1500; 15 times our goal. This was possible because we had conditioned the students to be social with the event from the onset of the marketing. Tweeting about the event was second nature and Twitter acted as a conversation vessel. The national trend alone etched out a place for Trollstock 2013 in the students’ memories.
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