A masterclass in tone of voice within the HE sector

The Denver Ad School website is a masterclass in tone of voice. They're even got a merch section - and we love it. See how you can leverage the same techniques and build a unique brand personality.

Denver Ad School’s website is a masterclass in tone of voice. Conversational with irreverence on tap, I’ve never seen graduate starting salaries referred to as “big sexy numbers” or a 404 page with the heading “Oh shit, this page has vanished into thin air.” Overall, the School’s offer is distinctive, student work looks like it’s from a New York ad agency, and the website even has a merch page accessible from the main nav. Can you imagine?

Nathan Monk
Welcome back to Most Clicked. We are live every Monday at 9am, bringing you the most clicked news item in HE digital marketing from the education marketer newsletter. As ever, I’m joined by my good friends Kyle Campbell and Matt Lees, I’m going to kick straight over to you, Kyle, what is this week’s most clicked item?

Kyle Campbell
It’s a good entry this week, and something I’ve never come across before, something called an AD school. And disclaimer, when I first read this, I thought it said art school my brain filled in that gap for some reason but it’s Denver Ad School. So it’s essentially a higher education institution that specialises in giving young creatives and young marketing professionals that agency-level training as part of their degree. So the whole purpose and point of the school are really interesting. But the thing that really caught my attention. And Matt, I’m sure you’ve got a really nice take on this as well is that the style of the copy, the use of imagery, and also that it’s it even built on a Squarespace site, which is something I’ve never come across before in a HE sort of sense. But if you just go onto this homepage, you can see how they really interrogated what they want to be known for. They’re taking risks with the sort of language that they use. I think they refer to their teaching as ‘no bullshit teaching’ or ‘no bullshit academia’ or something like that. And I just found it a really, really fresh take on how you can present a proper higher ed institution. Matt, I’m gonna hand it over to you because you’re our creative man. And so I know you’ll be a big fan of this.

Matt Lees
Yeah, this was big, we were all kind of drooling over it in our team. For a number of reasons, really, you kind of touched on the content and I think there was one line that stood out to me something like ‘you pay us and we’ll help you get paid’. I thought that was a really nice way of putting it. It breaks the mould that we see day in day out from other institutions. But yeah, visually, well. It’s great. You touched on photography there. And I think that’s a really good point. But actually, it’s some of the elements that have no photography are the bits that really stand out to me. You know, we hear from institutions, that kind of gathering photos is not always the easiest thing to do. But these big block colour sections with bold typography going on, are the bits that really stood out to me.

Kyle Campbell
Yeah, it’s stunning. And I also liked at the top in the main navigation, it’s got a merch link, which I’ve never seen on a university or college website, the fact that it highlights the products, people love this thing so much that, you know, they see it as a user route that they want to buy merch from them then, but the quality of the merch is really good as well. And they do drops so they’re using that sort of language that you see in social commerce and for arts. It’s really cool. And clothing looks awesome, it’s not just a hoodie. I don’t know if you guys saw it, but it’s like properly designed sort of like patterns and stuff like this. It’s really well thought out and It’s a really nice site. I think they’ve got a strong sense of who they are.

Nathan Monk
I think you know, as much as anything, it is a masterclass in how to put together a website without any pictures of campus, or without any pictures of, or not of any student because actually, I think that that’s their lead photo. But throughout, there’s this really bold visual take for the entire website. And yet there are barely any campus pictures. To be honest, I don’t even know if they’ve got a campus and frankly, I don’t care, it looks awesome. As Matt said, the copy is on point but yeah, this is a really good case study for if you’re looking at something going hmm, don’t have too many images for this. Take a look at this. And I know I know it’s blessed being an Ad school and all that sort of stuff. And it’s not the same as an accounting school or whatever. But even still, it’s a good case study for that, I think.

A screenshot of Denver Ad School's website homepage featuring a masthead and an image of multiple students in a laundrette
A screenshot of Denver Ad School’s website homepage

Kyle Campbell
Because it’s built on Squarespace as well. I imagine it’s probably quite easy to update. I guess if you do have that niche, and your remit is very focused, you probably could go down that route, but if you’re an enterprise sort of level and got, like hundreds of courses and that sort of thing, then it’s probably not going to be the most ideal choice.

Nathan Monk
This is what you and I talked about Kyle in our webinar back in December, though, about niche institutions and stuff like that. And actually, the one thing I’ve been thinking about since then is, like every university has like departments or schools or some format of that, and I know there’s this thing around identity and brand and stuff like that, but why aren’t they able to kind of carve out more of an identity and now this may be taking this sort of idea and expanding that to the kind of classic University scale, it seems something that’s, well I’ve not seen it, I don’t think. I was gonna say it seems unexplored, but I don’t think I’ve seen everything ever, but you don’t, you just don’t see too much. I think,

Matt Lees
Even if institutions started to think about the different personalities across departments, and gave them the platform, to kind of show that off, like we, you know, we deal with a lot of universities and they have a broad range of subjects from, you know, from English through to Creative Arts, and there’s not a kind of one size fits all approach to delivering that on their site. So why not embrace that and bring something that allows you, to have different personalities and show off different because I imagine as well, that the users who go into those different departments have different wants and needs as well.

Nathan Monk
Yeah, personality is such a perfect word to put to it like, and what you actually see from a lot of universities is the faceless kind of corporate identity of a business school, which is just the University logo with business school written underneath it in a slightly different colour font or something. And it does lack that personality that this site really leans into. And I think, as a result, it speaks to its audience way better.

Kyle Campbell
The creative in me is singing, the web guy in me is terrified. Just because I’ve approached it from both angles, and I completely get what you’re both saying don’t get me wrong. But I’ve been on the other end of those conversations where we’re trying to introduce personality into schools and having a digital identity at the school level and all that. And there’s often a lot of, and I’m sure you’re both aware of this, but all the kind of not considered areas of how a creative design translates to existing components and the site and, or, and all that thing. But yeah, in principle, all behind it. I think like art schools in particular. Even business schools obviously can have that really distinctive creative identity. But the reality of like, tiny web team rolling that out. Very different.

Nathan Monk
Yeah, no, that’s a fair point. Well, you know, that’s a really interesting chat. And, as always, we’d love to hear from anybody that has faced those challenges. I’d love to hear from anybody that is perhaps injecting more personality into their sites, whether that be university or a kind of departmental level. I think that’d be really interesting. Well, thanks, Matt, and Kyle, for joining me once again. Mondays 9am join us every week. Please don’t forget to like and subscribe to this video. And see you soon.

Default image
Elliott Barnicle

Lead Designer