Seven-foot, LED-lit block ‘I’ unveiled at O’Hare International Airport


Photo courtesy of Tracy Wolniewicz

The block ‘I’ at O’Hare InternationalAirport was installed Wednesday in Terminal 3.

By YooJin Son, Assistant News Editor

O’Hare International Airport waves blue and orange with a seven-foot, LED-lit block “I” landmark unveiled by Chancellor Robert Jones Wednesday.

The landmark is a part of the University’s largest newly launched marketing campaign, Power of I. Eric Minor, chief marketing officer at the Office of the Chancellor, and his team has focused on this campaign since summer.

“What (the campaign) seeks to communicate is for the student, the prospective student, you have power within you, and with the University of Illinois as your guide, it can shape that power and help you to achieve many of the things similar to many of our alumni have already achieved,” Minor said. “So whether it’s YouTube or PayPal or the MRI machine, these started here at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. And we’re attracting, we’re inviting you to come be a part of us.”

Matt Wszolek, senior executive of Marketing & Media at the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Institutional Advancement and Office of Public Affairs, worked with Minor to focus on making an impact with unique approaches.

“When we do something, we wanted to be a major impact, a major story to get people talking to cut through the advertising climate,” Wszolek said. “Today’s world people are trying to avoid advertising. They’re trying to avoid being bombarded. So how can we integrate into spaces and add to the experience versus just placing advertising?”

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The campaign’s first steps were taken with the unveiling of the block “I” landmark at one of the busiest terminals at O’Hare International Airport.

Home to American Airlines, the sole airline with flights connected to Champaign’s Willard Airport, O’Hare International Airport’s Terminal 3 holds 41% of its traffic.

“I was looking for something that was visible that would create an impact and reveal the pride in this flagship land grant University,” Minor said. “It’s just that a very visible icon. I hope it becomes an icon at the O’Hare Airport that reminds people of our impact on the state and the world.”

Taking caution of an airport’s busy nature, the process leading to the landmark’s installment required discussions with O’Hare, the Federal Aviation Administration and airport advertising company Clear Channel Airports regarding traffic flow and safety, touching base on all scenarios any traveler could face.

The creative process behind the landmark’s design came without major debate as the block “I” is the most recognizable piece of the University, Minor said. The landmark was designed by ExpoDesign and incorporates LED lights, branching from its invention by University alumnus Nick Holonyak Jr. in 1963.

With a seven-digit marketing budget, Minor and Wszolek challenged the midwest humble attitude for Power of I.

“For years, we haven’t bragged,” Wszolek said. “And if you interview Chancellor Jones right now, he would tell you and he said this line multiple times. ‘It’s not bragging if it’s true.’ If we are a wonderful academic institution across multiple disciplines and colleges and units, then it’s time that we show the world this.”

Jones has increased his presence with this campaign in diverse communities in Chicago. Andrea Darlas, senior director of constituent engagement, said Jones’ media appearances have been strategically planned to target different communities to share his message with the Power of I.

Visibility of the University in Chicago has been planned to paint the city blue and orange. Billboards showcasing students are one of the campaign’s traditional marketing approaches.

“I don’t see any other schools in the state or out of the state having a presence like we have,” Darlas said. “It sends a really powerful message to students and alums living and working in Chicago that, hey, you know, we’re here, we’re orange and blue. We’re not only here, but we’re here to stay and we are Illinois’ Big Ten team.”

ExpoDesign declined to interview for this production. 

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