What Advertising can teach us about building culture


Creating an effective culture and context for you and your staff in which you and your staff can work effectively is an important part of any leader’s responsibility. It is not an easy process to create or change a culture, while at the same time it is not impossible. Like most change initiatives it involves reflection, planning and effective implementation.

Advertising and Culture

Here is a question that is fun to ask people and makes a point (also a great way to figure out ages of the people you are asking).   Below are the first parts of some ad slogans. See if you can finish them.  The answers with the years they ran will be in the following paragraph.

  • Winston tastes good…
  • You deserve a break today, so get…
  • Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz…
  • Where’s the …
  • Double your pleasure, …


  • Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should (1954 -72)
  • You deserve a break, so get up an d get away at McDonald’s (1971-75)
  • Plop, Plop, Fizz, Oh What a relief it is (Alka Seltzer 1970’s)
  • Where’s the beef? (Wendy’s 1984)
  • Double you pleasure, double your fun (Doublemint Gum 1991)

How can it be that we remember these ad campaigns, some that ran over 40 years ago? Advertisers are great at creating a message and making it part of a culture.  They take their message and drum it into our heads via jingles, commercials, print ads, billboards and these days via our mobile devices.  Leaders need to so the same thing!

I have a Mission Statement, what can I do with it?

In most cases, organizations have a mission statement, but it doesn’t get used well. Lots of work goes into creating it—a committee is set up, input solicited, drafts created and reviewed and then a final approval– and then too often, it is posted on a wall and forgotten.  An investment of so many people over such a length of time shouldn’t be wasted.  So, have an end game in mind when you are creating a mission statement.

How would an advertiser use a mission statement? Here is one suggestion. Review your mission statement and pull out a tagline that can be easily used.  Below are some examples:

Mission Statement #1:

To achieve our vision, we will prepare our students to become independent learners with the desires, the skills, and the abilities necessary for lifelong learning. This will require creating a learning environment which is centered around students, directed by teachers, and supported by home and community.

Possible Tagline: We prepare our students to become independent and lifelong learners

Mission Statement #2

The mission of XXX School, a diversified community of individuals, is to ensure that each student achieves his/her full potential through educational experiences utilizing technology within a nurturing and motivating environment in partnership with family, business, and community.

Possible Tagline: We ensure that each student reaches their full potential

Here are some suggestions on how to use the tagline daily:

When you see students engaged in learning you can say:

  • You are doing a great job paying attention to your teacher. That is the way to become an independent and lifelong learner (Mission Statement #1)
  • When you pay attention  to what you are learning you are on your way to reaching your full potential! (Mission Statement #2)

When you want to express behavior expectations:

  • Lifelong learners don’t interrupt, but pay attention and ask questions (Mission Statement #1)
  • If you want to reach your full potential you must listen and ask questions (Mission Statement #2)

Other ideas:

  • Display your mission statement and tagline prominently in your hallways and classrooms. Refer to it during the day.
  • Display your tagline on your letterhead and memos
  • Close out your memos and notes to staff with your tagline or some form of it
  • Use it as a positive reinforcement of student and staff behavior—You are being such a great independent learner by (be specific about what you are praising them about).  (Mission Statement #1) or You really are reaching your full potential today by (again be specific about what you are praising them about.) (Mission Statement #2)

Engage your people

Some time ago I was invited to do some training with a district’s leaders about managing change. We spoke about engaging people in the process. We agreed that change can be a chaotic process and that when people do engage and join the movement the original vision often changes.

During the discussion one of the principals shared a great idea to engage staff.  She asked each of her teachers to create a sign with these words along the top: #WhyITeach. Each teacher was invited to list a reason and post the sign on their classroom door.  What was the result?

  • Teacher had to reflect on what they do and why they do it. It developed a sense of purpose and focus. It rekindled passion in some cases.
  • That passion was shared with anyone and everyone who walked through the hallways
  • It created a sense of community and purpose
  • Staff and students felt pride in being part of their school
  • It changed the culture through advertising! (and it may have planted some seeds that will grow into future teachers)


Leaders need to get their message out there. They can learn some valuable lessons from advertising.  Create a clear message that represents your values. Identify the people you want to affect. Get your message out there by embedding it in the daily routine of the staff.

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