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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

A short history of school advertising

The digital revolution has already transformed the world of advertising. But the story that you are about to read is not about Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

It's simply the story of one school's journey with print advertising between 2005 and 2017.

I've always suggested that the true art of telling the story of a school is the ability to find a 'middle distance' between expressing who we are as an organisation and who we want to be. Somewhere between the marshes of 'mundane fact' and hills of 'pure fantasy', in other words, it is possible to uncover stories of learning that inspire, engage, disrupt and, in the end, 'ring true'. These snapshots both capture the present, but also accelerate us towards some kind of desired future. Like a self-fulfilling prophesy, we literally become the story we tell.

Looking back over more than a decade and years of trying to navigate along this path, I found myself curious to see what our publicity archive teaches us about both the stories that we were trying to tell, as well as the way in which were trying to capture and communicate them.

As you click on the images below to track this journey and make your own connections, here are five lessons we've learned along the way.

1. Less is more. In the early years, we lost the message in a cluster of words and images. Over time, we learned the power of simplicity and white space.

2. Start a conversation. The dawn of social media taught us that advertising was more about a conversation than the delivery of information. We tried to find ways to start new conversations in a single image. We didn't always succeed.

3. Disrupt, more than once. Disruption comes in many forms. Sometimes, it was about breaking the unwritten rules of showcasing "happy, smiling children". At other times, it was about introducing the story of a hedgehog into your teacher recruitment campaign.

4. Differentiate and find a niche. Traditional print advertising is (almost) dead. That's a fact. But we've learned that niche marketing to a select audience gives rise to new opportunities for creativity and direct engagement of the audience. Even when the audience is there to see a production of Peter Pan.

5. The story doesn't end here. The journey of the last 12 years is the story of a school that is constantly adapting and evolving. To those of us who have been a part of this story, the evolution of these ideas is easy to trace. Each snapshot captures a moment in time for the International School of Brussels, but maybe for schools in general.

The question now is what to do in 2018.

An ISB promotional ad from 2005

An ISB promotional ad from 2006

An ISB promotional ad from 2007

An ISB promotional ad from 2008

An ISB promotional ad from 2009

An ISB promotional ad from 2010

An ISB promotional ad from 2011

An ISB promotional ad from 2012

An ISB promotional ad from 2013

An ISB promotional ad from 2014

An ISB promotional ad from 2015

An ISB promotional ad from 2016

An ISB promotional ad from 2017
2017 (1)

A second ISB promotional ad from 2017
2017 (2)


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