Massey University's new 'I am' ad sparks debate

The new New Zealander ads from Massey University.

The new New Zealander ads from Massey University.

A series of university ads that includes a woman walking on water has launched a debate on how universities sell themselves.

The latest in the series of "I am" ads from Massey University shows student Catherine Cater walking on water in a sundress, with the words "I am a game changer. I am the new New Zealand".

Waikato Times columnist Max Christoffersen took aim at the new ad in an opinion column, but the student in the ad and the university are backing it.

Christoffersen's column prompted plenty of responses to his description of the "pixie vixen".

"She is real and she is calling us to the new New Zealand, where people are beautiful and they walk on water," he wrote in the column.

But Cater has hit back at the column and defended the campaign on her Facebook page.

"You have ignored the age old rule of "never judge a book by its cover" and have allowed yourself to judge me solely on my looks, as opposed to my intelligence, personality and character," she wrote.

The column was "a personal attack on myself as a student", she wrote.


The new New Zealander - Massey University's new advertisement.

"I truly believe Massey have the best University ads in New Zealand, they are creative, fun and HARMLESS."

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And Massey University communications director James Gardiner said the ads were designed to get the attention of the student demographic.

"It's all about being fun, eye catching, challenging, game changing," he said.

"We're happy with it... We've only had positive feedback."

But Christoffersen said his column was aimed to start a debate on how universities advertise themselves, not on anyone featuring in the ads.

"Those images, they don't have any direct relevance to the students who are within those images. What they are using is they're using brand management, and essentially image-based advertising to promote the campus," he said.

"But what I'm saying is what does the woman levitating on water in Palmerston North have to do with Massey University?"

Christoffersen was the public relations manager for the University of Waikato in the early to mid-90s and said he would never have got sign-off for ads such as those in the "I am" campaign.

Other images include a student hanging from a chandelier and another in a diving suit and helmet, with an umbrella.

Christoffersen said he wanted to raise questions about that with his column.

"It's not about the person. It's actually not about her. What it's about is an image that an academic institution has chosen to put forward as representing the face of Massey University."

"As taxpayers, are we happy to see this commodity-based selling of higher education?"

But Cater defends the ads in her Facebook response to Christoffersen's column – which already has more than 370 likes.

"University is evolving, students are changing... But what would I know? I'm just a stereotypical 'hot chick' with no real intelligence and use besides marketing ploys, why would my opinion matter?," she wrote.

"I AM proud of this advert as well as the other versions of the 'I AM A' campaign produced by (ad agency) Tracta and Massey University. I was extremely comfortable and enjoyed the entire day spent creating this. Tracta are fantastically clever."

And Massey's Gardiner said the campaign was about "being what we're talking about".

The campaign presents students as problem-solvers, free thinkers, discoverers and game changers - so it was trying to reflect those qualities in how it got its messages to prospective students.

There were six new campaign images encouraging enrolments and all of the people featured were Massey students, Gardiner said.

"Marketing campaigns, people will have their opinions on them. And I guess that's better than them not being noticed at all."

The "I am" campaign was in its second year and had run in various forms, including online, on billboards and in print.

Cater was contacted for further comment but declined, and Tracta has not yet responded to requests for comment.

 - Stuff

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