The Unbearable Lightness of University Branding. Cross-National Patterns

Giuseppe Delmestri, Achim Oberg, Gili Drori

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review


This study investigates how universities brand themselves and in what ways visual self-representation varies cross-nationally. We trace differences in the icons (emblems and logos) used in the Internet self-representation of 821 universities and higher education institutions in 20 countries in 5 continents. Emerging from content analyses of the icons were three main visual types (guilded, national, and organizational), arranged in five subtypes (classic, science/technology, local, abstract, and just-text). Generally, the visual expression of abstract or text-based organizational type is the least visually loaded, such lightness matching modern principles of corporate branding; the other types are rich in references to the national or guilded professional field of universities. We find that while the abstract organizational type of visual expression has become dominant in Western countries, including France, Germany, and the United States, heterogeneity prevails in other nations such as Australia, Italy, or South Africa. We develop possible explanations of the observed distribution of types across countries and discuss the implication of our findings for world society institutionalism and the institutional logics approach.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121 - 136
JournalInternational Studies of Management and Organization
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Austrian Classification of Fields of Science and Technology (ÖFOS)

  • 506009 Organisation theory
  • 502044 Business management

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