Repost: Which B-Schools Practice What They Preach?

Great article from Steve Sue at Sticky Pitch.

Which B-Schools Practice What They Preach?

Here’s a concept: pick up a business magazine and cut out all the B-school ads, then compare them to see which practices what they preach: i.e., who excels or fails at positioning, audience segmentation, competitive analysis, product definition, sales and other Business 101 cornerstones.

Better yet, add the 3-Second Advertising Rule in your evaluation process to determine how effective their positions are conveyed.

I did just that with the Harvard Business Review (March 2010) while waiting for a flight at Denver Airport. Here’s what I found:


In 3 seconds, I was able to decipher that Michigan had a clever headline, but their message went right by me as I didn’t care to read the fineprint. In fact, the only reason I knew it was a B-school ad was because I re-skimmed the magazine specifically looking for B-school ads.

Now I was taught that selling a solution to a negative circumstance is much more compelling than selling to a positive benefit. In this case, their position simply doesn’t hit any angsts or sweet spots for me. That, in combination with some pretty poor graphic design sinks the ad.

On the point of graphic design, their’s simply doesn’t help as the headline could have been reinforced with a picture. Like may be a tree top with juicy fruits. Or a good-looking biz student/professional person reaching up to pick a sweet fruit. Further, the fineprint could have been made more readable by cutting the copy and providing higher text contrast, especially the yellow “Ross School of Business.”

The Grade? Hmmm... I don’t want to be a butt, but my butt tells me theirs is in the bottom half. Butt read on…


Wharton crosses their t’s and dots their i’s in this ad. They do a pretty decent job in defining their product. And they successfully target and talk to executive program candidates. Even better, they only bought 3/4 of the page so did their message more cost-effectively that Michigan.

But their headline is like a yard teacher’s scolding. It’s b-o-r-i-n-g. This ad is actually the antithesis of Michigan’s. Michigan starts with a nice emotional statement but doesn’t deliver the left-brain intellectual goods. This ad on the other hand is all left-brain without much emotional appeal.

Now Wharton might argue that many business people are left-brainers, but the fact is that the best candidates are well-balanced people and almost all of us are really more right-brainers. If you like the movies, you have a strong taste for right-brain emotional stuff.

And what’s up with the “best leaders” fading away so apologetically? Heck, it oughta jump out at you like a President trying to pass a healthcare initiative.

The Grade: S for “Stiff” Try a few drinks or ‘shrooms and try it again.


This, and the next ad, are what precipitated this post. Now I’ve never been a Stanford fan (I’m a UC Berkeley grad) but I gotta hand it to the Tree Guys: their ad rocks. They know their audience, they get the product description right, they even do it cheap with a 3/4 page ad.

But what’s really great about this ad is that they get the angst of the time, define a solution and give hope for the future. Read it and you’ll find your head wagging like a piece of ceramic on a spring in the back dashboard of your car.

But wait! There’s more! Stanford really raises the stakes by placing a pic of a young-ish blond hot chick with fake glasses and still perky boobs smiling at you. As if Stanford… we know your rep… but it works.

The Grade: A+


We all know it’s hard to follow a great act, but the placement of this ad in combination with the similar headlines makes this a big “whoops.”

B-schools teach the theory of 4 P’s: Product, Place, Promotion and Price… and well, St. Louis pretty much failed on the third P which results in a rather embarrassing, “me too” headline.

On top of that, their terms aren’t as good as Stanford’s… and they have no hot babe in their ad. May be a younger, hotter, blonder, bigger boobed chick with bigger glasses would have save it…

The Grade: In this context, a big goose egg… but check out HBR in future editions to see if St Louis evolves their position or winds up with more egg on their face.


Harvard had the home court advantage as HBR is their own magazine. Which means that they were uniquely positioned to study all of the competitor ads and placements before finalizing their own. It should have been an easy score… But it looks like they either punted or fumbled.

This as is like a bad Rorshach Test. I first saw a big question mark because I was like, “huh?” Then I thought, “oh may be it’s supposed to be a dollar sign – but it’s backwards – so does that mean negative money?” And finally I thought that may be Harvard is mixed up like a maze and if you go there, you’ll like a big bug crawling all over a question mark… I must not be Harvard material ’cause I don’t get it.

The Grade: Most definitively a resounding, “huh?”


I dunno much about this school, but apparently you get to sail a lot... now that’s a good way to become a leader in financial services!

The Grade: I don’t sail, so I’m not qualified to rate this ad.


Correct me if I’m wrong, but this small ad, in all it’s generic glory, stuck in the back of a $16.95/issue magazine, doesn’t seem to be very well positioned to capture the kind of folks that read the Harvard Business Review.

The Grade: It’s in the back for a reason… Retool. Rethink. Rebound.

BOTTOM LINE: As far as using HBR ads to determine who knows business, the overwhelming vote goes to Stanford… but if you want to go there, know that it ain’t easy to get in… and that you gotta pay crazy high tuition… and most importantly, you’d never be able to live down The Play…  just kidding… NOT!

Go Bears! :)

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