This is the latest installment in monthly Sesquicentennial Moments highlighting Wilmington College’s 150-year anniversary, which is being observed from January 2020 through September 2021.
WILMINGTON — A student recruitment campaign implemented at the College in the late 1980s poked fun at larger schools while praising the virtues of a small school like Wilmington College.
The so-called “Lemming Campaign” attracted the attention of admission directors across the region while also helping point prospective students to a friendly, personal-size institution that often was stuck in the shadow of the 50,000-student universities with football teams viewed by millions across the nation.
The campaign featured Dorian T. Lemming, a collegiate sweater-wearing rodent waving a “Lemming State” pennant and fitting the profile: “Born follower, likes standing in long lines, thinks student aid is a rock concert, frequently spotted at large state universities and has been extinct on the Wilmington College campus since 1870.”
At the bottom of all the posters and other promotional publications was the tagline: “Wilmington College: Not for Everybody.”
Lemmings are rodents residing in Arctic tundra known for being followers, not leaders. Even though it’s a misconception, there is a popular belief that lemmings regularly follow others off cliffs to their deaths or engage in other stupid, harmful or dangerous behavior.
With that image in mind, the College proclaimed: “Why follow the leader, when you can be one at WC?”
WC’s admission representatives at the time noted how, at college fairs, high school students not only scarfed up the College’s lemming-laden, recruitment publications, but their conversations were all abuzz with references to Dorian T. Lemming. Those same counselors enjoyed seeing WC’s lemming posters filling the valuable real estate of high school guidance counselors’ bulletin boards.
The Cincinnati advertising firm Sullivan & Findsen was the creative brains behind the campaign. Firm president Kirby Sullivan said, at the time, “We wanted to get people’s attention, but we also wanted to make sure we captured the values and atmosphere of the College.”
They accomplished those goals while encouraging everyone to have fun with it.
The campaign, which ran into the early 1990s, won awards for WC and Sullivan & Findsen, which leveraged its popularity in full-page advertisements placed in regional issues of TIME, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated and U.S. News & World Report.
Jumping on the bandwagon, regional TV covered The Great Lemming Hunt, an event staged at homecoming in which more than 100 students competed in games designed to “Rid the College” of any lemmings that might have snuck in.