The University of Wyoming’s “The World Needs More Cowboys” campaign unveiled last summer won national awards, despite criticism from some school staff that it was problematic.
A video that officially launched the campaign last summer earned a “Best in Show” award in a national education advertising competition, according to a university press announcement released earlier this week. The overall effort earned a silver award in the same competition that featured more than 2,000 entrants. It won another honor from the American Advertising Awards.
The recognition of the campaign drew praise from university president Laurie Nichols.
“It’s wonderful to see that our marketing campaign and its anthem video are being recognized as outstanding not only among higher education institutions, but also across all types of advertising,” she said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “We know ‘The World Needs More Cowboys’ has galvanized UW alumni and other supporters across the country and even internationally, while catching the attention of thousands of prospective students and many others.”
Chad Baldwin, who spearheaded the campaign as the school’s head of marketing, said it was “gratifying” to get the recognition. He said the campaign has generated roughly 18,000 recruiting leads, and the video accompanying the launch has nearly half a million views on the university’s platforms.
The campaign was unveiled in July and swiftly received approval from UW’s trustees. But not before a group of university staff and educators criticized it. The school’s American Indian Studies department director said she was disappointed in the “negative slogan.” A university committee on diversity wrote a letter to school leaders expressing its “grave concerns” and advising the school to “shelve” the effort.
The concerns by critical staff members were related to the use of the word “cowboys,” both for its use of what was perceived as male-only language and in the context of a cowboys-versus-Indians cultural history in Wyoming and America in general. Critics said the slogan implied the school wanted only men and students who fit a certain stereotype.
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Defenders of the slogan, including Baldwin, said the campaign would actually reshape the image of a cowboy. Baldwin said in July that the effort would include images that showed the university’s commitment and desire for more diversity.
“I think the response overwhelmingly has been positive,” he said Wednesday. “That’s in-state, on campus, out of state, everywhere. That’s not to say everybody loves it, I’m sure folks still don’t, and that’s fine.”
The campaign’s defenders included Republican candidates vying to be Wyoming’s next governor. In a July debate, eventual winner Mark Gordon and opponents Harriet Hageman and Sam Galeotos all expressed support for the effort. Hageman called the controversy surrounding the slogan ginned up and “false.”
University of Wyoming supporters and fans appeared to agree, if sales were anything to go on. Within a week of the campaign’s launch, the university’s bookstore sold out its T-shirts bearing the slogan, to the tune of nearly $6,000. Baldwin said last summer that July was typically a slow time for merchandise sales — students aren’t on campus and there are no athletic events — so the high sales were especially significant.
Baldwin previously said the media coverage around the slogan — which drew statewide and national attention — helped improve sales and the spread of the campaign in general.
The campaign design cost $500,000 from a Denver-based firm and will cost $1.4 million overall. The board of trustees approved it in mid-July, at least six weeks ahead of schedule and after the tidal wave of media attention.
According to the press release, the university is beginning to analyze how successful the campaign has been in terms of aiding enrollment, among other things. Baldwin said the early results look promising and the university plans to carry the campaign forward into at least a second year.