Posted At: November 13, 2013 2:30 p.m.
by Courtney Cox
Vanderbilt University, a private research university in Nashville, Tenn., has been historically recognized as one of the top universities in the country in terms of academics. Vanderbilt was ranked 17th in the 2013 edition of U.S. News and World Report’s list of top national universities. The Academic Ranking of World Universities also recognized the school as the 49th best university in the world.
It’s a different story for Vanderbilt’s athletic programs. Vanderbilt is the smallest and only private school in the Southeastern Conference. Compared to larger schools in the conference, Vanderbilt has been seen as an SEC athletic underdog. In recent years, however, the game seems to have changed.
In 2007, Vanderbilt had seven nationally ranked NCAA teams. That same year, the women’s bowling team brought the university its first NCAA National Championship title. This success sparked a flame of excitement among Vanderbilt’s students, athletes and fans. In 2012, the university’s athletic department decided to seek out a way to add fuel to the fire.
“I think that people really connect to the idea of the Vanderbilt student-athlete who is competing at the highest level in both athletics and academics,” said Director of Sales and Marketing and Associate Director of Athletics Steve Walsh. “We wanted to tell that story with some powerful images and creative that allowed the audience to connect with the message.”
The fully integrated “Game Changer” marketing campaign did just that. Through television commercials, billboards, print and digital ads, radio spots and social media, the “Game Changer” campaign emphasized the athletes’ dedication and tenacity to succeed in sports, as well as academics.
“The driving force behind the ‘Game Changer’ campaign was to help elevate the Vanderbilt Athletics brand both regionally and nationally with the goal of creating increased support for all of our teams,” Walsh said.
The campaign was the work of Luckie & Co., a privately held agency in Birmingham, Ala., that specializes in integrated marketing, advertising and public relations. Designed to build excitement around Vanderbilt’s athletic programs, the “Game Changer” campaign also engages fans and encourages them to share their own game-changing moments.
“I believe the entire Vanderbilt community has been inspired by the campaign because I believe Vanderbilt has been a ‘Game Changer’ the entire time. This has just given the opportunity to shine a spotlight on those efforts,” Walsh said. “Vanderbilt has been a national leader in academics and athletics, and this has been a chance for the entire university community to embrace that role and celebrate it.”
The “Game Changer” campaign began simultaneously with the 2012-2013 college football season. As any Vanderbilt fan would more than likely agree, this season marked a pivotal point in Commodores’ history.
“The 2012 season was probably one of the best and most historic seasons for Vanderbilt’s football program,” said former Commodores tailback Zac Stacy. Stacy was a four-year starter at Vanderbilt, and was voted second-team All-SEC following the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He was the first Vanderbilt player to rush for more than 3,000 yards in a career. He was also the first player at Vandy and the 30th player in NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. Stacy was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
“Zac is one of the finest student-athletes that I have had the pleasure to work with during my time in college athletics,” Steve Walsh said. “He is the epitome of what we were looking to focus on with the “Game Changer” campaign – a student-athlete who can excel in the classroom and also be a major force on the field.”
Stacy was featured on a billboard for the “Game Changer” campaign and was the focus of a 30-second television commercial.
“The ‘Game Changer’ campaign was awesome because it exemplified the success the program was having and where it is headed as well,” Stacy said. “When the Nashville community saw the campaign, they were very excited. That, along with the added success we had, made the season even more special.”
Another person featured in the “Game Changer” campaign was Head Coach James Franklin, who according to Stacy, was the force behind the Commodores’ successful season.
“Ever since he stepped on campus, he created a change in atmosphere around the program,” he said. “He developed a process for success, and we just did a good job following it.”
The “Game Changer” campaign has had a positive effect on students and athletes at the university, as well as the entire Vanderbilt community. According to Luckie & Co., the campaign resulted in an increase of pre-season ticket sales for Vanderbilt football and back-to-back sellout games at Vanderbilt Stadium.
“The ‘Game Changer’ campaign has certainly helped to raise the profile of Vanderbilt Athletics locally, regionally and nationally,” Walsh said. “I think the university as a whole has embraced the idea of the ‘Game Changer’ campaign and have used this as an opportunity to tell their own ‘game changer’ stories that are happening all across campus.”
According to Stacy, the campaign was a successful motivator for athletes to perform at their best, both on the field and in the classroom.
“I went through a lot of adversity in college on and off the field, so for me to overcome that just shows how much you can achieve once you dedicate yourself mentally, physically and spiritually,” he said. “Although my success on the field in college was great, my biggest accomplishment was being able to graduate from a great institution like Vandy.”
The Commodores were ranked 23rd in the nation following the 2012 football season. With a record of 9-4, it was the first winning season for the program since 1982. According to Steve Walsh, the university’s athletic department plans to continue to inspire and motivate all members of the Vanderbilt family to be game changers in every aspect of life.
“We will continue to work hard to tell the incredible stories of our student-athletes each and every day and work to continue to grow the Vanderbilt community.”