In the Heart of Football Country, a Different Kind of Champion

| October 31, 2013

A t-shirt long popular among Webster University students reads: “Webster University Football: Undefeated since 1915.”

That tongue-in-cheek humor — Webster has nine consecutive SLIAC All-Conference titles, a NCAA regional champion baseball team and successful debate team, but has never fielded a football team — is a hallmark of the Webster student body. It’s also an aesthetic Webster’s Global Marketing and Communications unit sought to channel when changing out a billboard it rents on the Interstate 70 corridor in central Missouri.

The highway is the most heavily traveled east-west route across Missouri and carries thousands of college football fans who make the trek to see the University of Missouri’s top-10 football team on fall weekends. The University of Missouri-Columbia leverages that traffic with a series of billboards that blare its nickname, Mizzou.

So Webster’s marketing unit leveraged the exposure of this route to stand out in a different way.

Global Marketing and Communications seized an opportunity to have Webster stand out amid the college football attention that dots the heavily traveled I-70 corridor in central Missouri.

Global Marketing and Communications seized an opportunity to have Webster stand out amid the college football attention that dots the heavily traveled I-70 corridor in central Missouri.

The new display, in the middle of all this football imagery, features Webster students from the number-one ranked chess team. Mara Kamphorst is in football eyeblack, while Wesley So is in an athletic headband, with the caption: “Our top recruits are chess players.”

Of course, Webster has plenty of top “recruits” across its academic programs, many of whom also play Division III sports. But the opportunity to reference the school’s collegiate chess championship this past spring — and also juxtapose chess to football to highlight Webster’s unique character — was too much to pass up.

Webster in the Wall Street Journal

The one-off effort even attracted the attention of the Wall Street Journal, the largest newspaper in the United States, which posted an article this week that opens:

Webster University doesn’t have the huge budget or hulking athletes of Southeastern Conference schools, but it has something they don’t: the national-championship chess team.

The article quotes John Costello, director of Creative Services in GMC: “It was just a way to set us apart in kind of a tongue-in-cheek manner.”

Costello explained that the billboard, which Webster has held for several years, isn’t a departure from the existing ad campaign, but rather a unique opportunity in a special context.

“So many people associate that stretch of highway with football, it’s almost second nature,” Costello adds. “We thought we’d shake up that context and get people thinking about college success in a different way. It strikes a note, gets them curious about Webster, encourages them to check out an institution that offers all kinds of global experiences that don’t appear on ESPN every Saturday.”

The Wall Street Journal story includes a response from Mizzou spokesman Chad Moller:

“We’re very flattered to know that Webster University drew inspiration from some of our messaging. In terms of the challenge to a chess match, we’ll accept, as long as Webster understands that we might just award Gary Kasparov with an honorary degree from Mizzou!”

As for the student models for this display? Chess players Kamphorst and So did a photo shoot with GMC to capture just the right look for the billboard, which can be changed again to include other subjects in this tongue-in-cheek theme. “The students were great,” Costello says. “In a crowded marketplace, you’re always looking for creative ways to stand out and get people to remember you. They get it.”

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Category: Campus Snapshots, St. Louis Campus News, Webster in the News

Comments (4)

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  1. Jennifer Gammage says:

    I love it!!!!!

  2. Ken Wichert says:

    Touchdown! No, wait… Checkmate!!!

  3. Kit Jenkins says:


  4. Ann Elwell says:

    Great job, GMC! The billboard shows the same great strategy used by Webster’s awesome chess players.