Commodification of tertiary institutions : a study of the University of Natal's corporate advertising campaign.
Following the global 'capitalisation' of public institutions, academic institutions have embarked continuously on a drive towards 'marketisation' and commodification of their services. Tertiary institutions are utilising aggressive marketing strategies and media campaigns to attract students. This study examines the advertising campaign embarked on by the University of Natal in 1998/ 1999. This is a first stage of a two-tier marketing strategy, and it involves brand-building the University. This research assesses the University of Natal's advertising campaign both on radio and in print, it analyses the campaign from creative conceptualisation to media exposure, while giving a brief background to advertising and commodification trends among tertiary institutions in South Africa. Eric Michaels' (1990) proposal of a circular message transmission model called 'hermeneutic circle' (12-28) of a teleported text serves as the theoretical backdrop for the assessment of lhe conceptualisation process to the media exposure of the campaign. A semiotic analysis of the University of Natal's advertising campaign is also given and located within a particular context in the 'henneneutic circle'. Various focus group discussions were conducted : one comprising mainly white students from Pinetown Girls High School in Standard Nine; the second, mainly Indian students in their matric year at Queensburgh High School. The others comprised of black students from Ferndale Secondary School, Phoenix, but who reside in KwaMashu, and also black students from Amangwane High School in Bergeville, near Ladysmith. One on one interviews were also conducted with high school students. Most of these students were in Standard Nine with some completing their matric year. These discussions were conducted separately to avoid any kind of intimidation and domination of the discussions by students from the private schools who are more fluent in the command of the English language. The other group comprised of an alumnus, a parent, four students - two local and two international, and two staff members of the University. Their comments provide information in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the campaign as well as the evaluation of the campaign concepts and contents in correlation with the cultural contexts of the target groups. The group discussions also provide insight into the reception and perception of the campaign.