Lovemarking College

Bonnie Urciuoli
Dept. of Anthropology
Hamilton College

The academic market competition among elite colleges, and the rising cost of tuition, puts increasing pressure on offices of admission and of institutional advancement to convince potential students, parents and donors that investment in their institution is money well spent. To that end, lovemarking has become an important aspect of college branding. A lovemark is a high-equity brand that can command premium pricing because it is not only respected and trusted but loved. As analyzed by Foster (2007), lovemarking folds consumers into the labor pool through which the brand’s meaning is produced: consumers use brands, brands become part of people’s lives, and becoming part of their lives imparts more value to the brand - and in doing so, their subjectivity becomes recast in ways that fit the lovemarked brand. Lovemarked college brands are built around the construction of the “good student:” versatile, talented, attractive, hip yet uncontroversial, academically engaged, and diverse. The “good student” is brought to life through narratives that recast education in terms that best demonstrate the school’s symbolic capital, especially its national and global connections (hence diversity). This “good student,” modeled along the lines of Gershon’s (2011) neoliberal agency that runs the self like a business, is produced as a lovemarked brand, through the work of students and alumni.

Foster, Robert
2007. The work of the new economy: Consumers, brands, and value creation. Cultural Anthropology 22(4):707–731.

Gershon, Ilana
2011. Neoliberal Agency. Current Anthropology 52(4): 537–555.