You are here: American University Communications & Marketing WONK campaign

Know wonk

To communicate the uniqueness of the university with a message that would differentiate us in a way that no other university could, UCM launched the WONK campaign in 2011.

Wonk is a simple, memorable, and uniquely Washington term that succinctly and uniquely expresses AU's distinctive qualities. Describing experts, thought leaders, and Washington insiders, the word was a perfect match for the AU community—smart, passionate, focused, and engaged individuals who use their knowledge to effect meaningful change.

After nine years in circuit, the campaign has evolved to reflect the university's growth in reputation and stature. From exploring what it means to be called a wonk to highlighting the impact our wonks have in the world, we focus on stories of impact that show not only how our alumni are effecting positive change but also how their time at AU helped them do so.

The brand campaign continues to resonate with our audiences. The university is experiencing recognition as a stronger draw to prospective students and is engaging more alumni. Our bold approach inspired prospective students, partners, and higher education peers to take a new look at AU.

Smart + Passionate + Focused + Engaged = Wonk
Various wonk ads in a metro station

During the initial roll-out of the campaign, we focused on defining what we meant by WONK: a leading expert in a field, someone passionate about creating meaningful change in the world. While originally political in meaning, we broadened the term to define our passionate community, while still giving a nod to our roots in the nation's capital. The campaign featured different types of WONKs with headless profiles utilizing props related to their expertise or interest.

Where passion becomes action


An Emmy-winning TV spot, "All the Wonks are Talking" aimed to raise awareness, captivate audiences, and create a cohesive identity around the word "WONK."

Various wonk ads
WONK models wearing Nationals t-shirts

Washington Nationals Partnership

In 2012, we became the first higher education institution among National's partners. Take a look at the success and impact of our sponsorship.

Celebrate AU

Malala is the Wonk of the year for 2017

Each year, we recognize a well-known individual who embodies a wonk: smart, passionate, focused, and engaged.

Learn more

The brand campaign also featured print pieces that utilized strategic elements like tone and design. Below is the Undergraduate Admissions Booklet from 2017.

Cover and selected pages from the admissions booklet  for undergraduate students

We created an adaptable campaign that could be used to speak to many different audiences, from students and alumni, to donors and members of leadership. In the example below, we used design elements and outcome equations to highlight the achievements of our alumni and engage with our audience.

Various brochures for alumni

After the campaign began resonating with our audiences, we entered phase two. After we established our definition of WONK, we shifted to illustrating the impact and exciting outcomes of our WONKs. We introduced stories of impact, using real students, alumni, and faculty members to highlight how an AU degree can help an individual reach their goals and make meaningful change in the world.

Various campaign posters

We expanded the digital range of the campaign by incorporating landing pages, Facebook ads, SEM, and other marketing elements to give our audiences a holistic experience. We featured real students, alumni, and faculty who gave personal accounts of their time at AU, and how that time helped them achieve their professional goals.

Webpage and various online materials for game design master's program