Illinois marketing push aims to claim state

From the moment he was hired as athletic director, Mike Thomas has set out to make Illinois the “king of Chicago” and the state's definitive college program.

Many Illini fans would argue the Orange and Blue already had such a distinction. But mediocre football results combined with Northwestern's marketing campaign, built around the slogan "Chicago's Big Ten team," had clouded the picture a bit.

Illinois made a power play Friday, revealing a marketing campaign built around the theme, "ILLINOIS. OUR STATE. OUR TEAM." The theme and logo will be introduced throughout the state beginning this fall.

From the news release:

The theme will be used in a variety of ways including advertising, street banners, team posters, schedule cards, stadium signage and video board graphics. ... The "ILLINOIS. OUR STATE. OUR TEAM." campaign will be incorporated into a large-scale brand evaluation program that the DIA will partner with Nike beginning in 2013. The 18-month collaboration will result in an updated brand identity including new football uniforms for 2014."

Thomas said of the campaign, "This theme becomes a way for all of our fans to rally behind one central concept -- that the University of Illinois is our state's school. As the Fighting Illini, our student-athletes, coaches and staff are proud to represent the people of Illinois and we are proud to wear the state's name on the front of our jerseys."

Thomas certainly is looking to make a splash, especially after coming under criticism for his football and men's basketball coaching searches. Rallying the fan base always is a good idea.

On the other hand, this seems like a pretty obvious response to the campaign Northwestern launched in the summer of 2010. Led by athletic director Jim Phillips and marketing chief Mike Polisky, Northwestern made a marketing push for the Chicago market, which Illinois feels is its territory, and has been successful. Now Illinois is countering with a push to claim the state.

If there was no "Chicago's Big Ten team," would there be an "Illinois. Our state. Our team." campaign?

The rivalry between the two schools -- and athletic departments, for that matter -- clearly is getting spicier, which isn't a bad thing in my book. Illinois played "Sweet Home Chicago" over the public-address system immediately after its victory against Northwestern in football last October. New Illini football coach Tim Beckman also is playing up the Northwestern series with signs in the complex.

What's your take?