American University

American University

Refreshing an institution driven by change 

Who we are is defined by what we do.

What kinds of students excel when their impact is measured in the quality of human lives? That was the question American University was looking to answer when we first met. With new leadership and a revitalized investment effort, the D.C.-based school with over a century of history needed to create clarity around their ideal student body and re-engage a disenfranchised alumni population to jumpstart new fundraising. To those ends, they needed a strategic and creative partner to pull their brand personality traits into an identity and campaign that students, staff, and alumni could all believe in. 

Engaging the change makers 

The most important thing we uncovered about AU was that as a population, they care. Students come to American because they want to enact meaningful change. And as an institution, AU sees itself as the place for idealists to springboard themselves into the positions where change happens. 

In the AU community, issues bring believers together rather than driving them apart. We allowed that to be the heart of our work. Our campaign grew out of a story about purpose and impact—helping students and the greater AU network see themselves as the ideal candidates to address the most difficult problems facing our society.

Accepting the challenge 

We ensured that the students’ willingness to create change lived at the center of their new brand. “Challenge Accepted” became our North Star. As we reimagined the look and feel of the AU identity, it was paramount that our audiences felt not only the uniqueness of American’s students, but also the university’s objective—to nurture, hone, and activate students’ purpose to create a positive change.

We delivered a modern and fresh visual approach, leveraging realistic and evocative photography with inspiration from hand-drawn, street protest signs. Our refreshed palette embraced AU’s time-honored colors and evolved into a blend that empowered them to stand out in a visual and political sea of red and blue in Washington.

Showing up where it all goes down 

As we took the rallying cry to market, we built American’s Fundraising campaign, “Change Can’t Wait”, and brought it to life alongside their main brand story. The campaign took over the nation’s capital and aimed at future donors by appealing to alumnae’s desire to immediately and directly address our societal crises.  

This infusion of optimism and urgency elevated American University’s relevance in real time. What had previously been regarded as a humble hall of learning was repositioned as the institution and community where the world’s leaders learn to make a difference. 

What we did

  • Brand strategy
  • Collateral
  • Communications strategy
  • Verbal identity
  • Visual identity

How it worked


of the fundraising goal raised in the campaign's first year.