How Duck Dynasty Blew Away My Enrollment

by Jeff Ebbing
Southeastern Community College
West Burlington,  IA

Recently I got a call from my TV ad lady. Sensing the need to justify her share of my advertising budget, she told me how my spots ran during the #1 cable show for the month: Duck Dynasty.


Being a savvy marketer and proud owner of a TV, I was surprised that I knew nothing of this ducky sensation. Was it a remake of Disney’s 1986 runaway cartoon hit, “Duck Tails”? A show about an ancient Chinese emperor? A Joan Collins’ biopic?

Intrigued, I tuned in to the next episode of Duck Dynasty, prepared to be blown away.

Two words: Mission accomplished.

I was speechless. How could a show about ZZ Top impersonators who make fancy kazoos be the highest-rated cable show in America?

Two more words: Reality TV.

Just when I think TV executives can’t possibly insult our collective intelligence any more, they round up a new group to exploit. If they’re not airing shows about self-important, rich people getting their snob on, they’re airing shows about naive, poor people getting their folk on.

These shows are like car wrecks people can’t stop watching. They’re the entertainment rufies Timothy Leary wrote about (young people – Google him). Or what Jim Gaffigan calls “McDonald’s TV” (old people – Google him). Watching a weekend reality TV marathon (and I know you have) is like pulling a Rip Van Winkle. Before you know it, it’s Monday and you have nothing to show for it but an empty pizza box and two half-eaten bags of Cool Ranch Doritos.

So what does this have to do with community college marketing?

You gotta want something bad enough to do something about it.

When it comes to adult students, my biggest competitor isn’t another community college, a state university or any college for that matter. It’s not even a new job.

My biggest competitor is apathy.

People choose not to go to college for all kinds of reasons, but sometimes it’s easier to just watch TV.

Let me explain.

There will always be people who are unhappy with an aspect of their life that they themselves can fix. For many, a college education (preferably from mine) could completely turn their life around.

Knowing this, we often blindly throw buckets of money at the coveted Unhappy/Uneducated/Underserved (U3) demo. And we are stupid for doing so. We fail to remember that U3 breaks down into two very important subgroups: one group that’s not happy enough to do something about it, and another group that’s not, not happy enough to do something about it.

The first group, while a mere sliver of the whole U3 demo, I can work with. As a matter of fact, they’re worth their weight in gold. These motivated buyers are hot to trot. They just need a little TLC before they commit. Let’s call them the “bird-in-hand” group.

The second group is infinitely larger. These beautiful sirens beckon even the most seasoned marketers with delusions of grandeur to jump into their black hole of ambivalence. We’ll call them the “two-in-the-bush” group.

No matter how alluring two-in-the-bush looks, as long as there’s a steady Duck Dynasty morphine drip to perpetuate their self-induced educational ennui, getting them off the couch and into a classroom ain’t gonna happen.

There’s a reason they call it a duck blind.

That’s why you have to talk to the hand. These people are looking for an excuse to say yes – they just don’t realize it. So show them what they want to see. Hold the mirror up: that job they really want, their million-dollar business idea, the quality of life they wish they had. Then share how you can help them to turn their frown upside down.

Message your ads this way. Write your media features and press releases this way. Shamelessly promote your alumni this way. Do it everywhere these people hang out. Do it where their families hang out. Do it where their friends hang out.

Rinse and repeat.

Keep in mind that even though this strategy is crazy-powerful, you won’t become a smash hit overnight. It took a long time for these people to get to this point in their life and it’s gonna take a while before they decide to change it. The secret to winning them over is to whisper a few sweet nothings to them every day not blow some ear-splitting duck call a few times a year.

So go out and talk to the hand. You might feel like you’re not getting anywhere, but stay the course and your strategy will pay off.

And would it kill you to shave once in a while?

Jeff Ebbing is director of marketing and communications (a.k.a. the marketing guy) at Southeastern Community College in West Burlington, Iowa. He likes music, mustard and a good laugh. Reality TV? Not so much.

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