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CIEE

CIEE (identity development and evolution)
strategy, design and messaging applied to marketing collateral,
website and events
When we began working with CIEE in 2002, they were the leading international education provider—but judging by their sales materials, they didn’t look like the market leader. Wary of the way slick marketing could tarnish their stellar academic reputation, they wanted to be sure we understood the sensitivities of their field.

To broaden the group of students we targeted for CIEE’s study abroad programs (from primarily language majors to every student) we built a brand identity on the universally appealing idea of transformation. In sales materials of every kind, we emphasized the urgency of study abroad: go now; don’t wait until you graduate; the Argentina of today won’t be here tomorrow. The distinction between travel and study abroad was critical, though, and it had to be made in every word and every image. Photos could show students having fun, but bikinis and beer had to be avoided. Text needed to highlight aspects of learning, whether cultural (“walk out of a Monet into a patisserie”), aspirational (“discover the future of Leningrad”) or experiential (“surf in February, ski in July in the land of metropolis and wilderness”).

With these concepts in mind, we developed catalogs, banners, posters, pins, stickers, tees—all designed to cut through the noise of a crowded study abroad fair and interest even casual browsers. The central copywriting and design concept for the overview catalog organized elements into visual layers: headlines grab attention with unusual word choices, pullquotes highlight piquant facts, introductions are packed with delicious stream-of-conciousness details and stories give witness to student experiences.

Seven years, several design concepts and literally hundreds of pieces of collateral later, we haven’t needed to adjust our core strategy—despite Generation X college students evolving into Millennial Generation students. That strategy—and our execution of it—has helped CIEE increase the number of students they send on their programs by over 150%. And attendance at the professional conference CIEE organizes and sponsors annually is up as well: over 57% since we began helping define and promote the conference theme.