The Original Big Brands: Higher Education

Happy College Colors Day.

Hot take: Higher ed brands were the original big brands, pretty much creating and defining the nature of brand loyalty. Long before there was any widespread cachet for designer logos or the ability to document acquisitions on Instagram, anyone fortunate enough to have access to higher education was proclaiming their pride and loyalty to their alma mater with car decals, bedroom pennants, and sweatshirts emblazoned with official seals.

The letter jacket itself dates from 1865. As the author of this article—wonderfully titled “An Identity Constructed in Felt”—points out, college pennants became all the rage with the advent of photography. The sweatshirt had barely been invented in the late 1920s before universities started slapping logos on it. And don’t get me started on freshmen beanies.

In short, if you think Apple wrote the book on brand affiliation, fuhgeddaboudit. Higher ed knew about the power of affiliation ever since the days of Oxbridge. When was the last time you heard of a phone model that had alumni? Or a streaming network that people loved so much that they dreamed of having their future children subscribe to it? When was the last time someone cheered aloud for someone else drinking a specific brand of coffee?

Our attachment to higher education is a wondrous thing. So, in celebrating all that higher ed has done for society—especially these days, when higher ed can use all the friends it can get—let’s not forget the enduring lesson higher ed has taught us: how to love brands.

Yes& Lipman Hearne staff showing off their college colors and pride.

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