Don’t listen to this podcast! Reverse psychology with the University of Bradford

Don’t listen to this podcast. Just don’t bother. It’s rubbish. You definitely wouldn’t be interested and you definitely won’t learn anything…you’d be better off listening to Serial instead.

Reverse psychology. I’ll admit, it’s not something I’m particularly comfortable using to plug this podcast and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be brave enough to use it in a big marketing campaign.

However, if you are brave, if you are bold and you can use it effectively then reverse psychology can be a really great joker to have in your pack – as the University of Bradford showed in 2016 when they made a video that said to people ‘Don’t Come to Bradford’.

The campaign worked brilliantly – or terribly if you only go on its title – as it drew students to Yorkshire and saw a spike in numbers from people who’d never previously considered the University. And, the campaign is the focus of today’s episode.

My guest is Emma Bridge, the Associate Director for Marketing and Communications at the University of Bradford and the mastermind behind the campaign.

We talk about where the idea for Don’t go to Bradford came from, why it pays to be bold and brave  and find out how awkward it was to have your first conversation with your council’s new CEO be to say that you’re about to tell everyone not to come to your city.

Subscribe to The Native Podcast now on Apple PodcastsStitcher, via RSS or where ever else you get your podcasts.

Show notes

Emma Bridge is the Associate Director for Marketing and Communications at the University of Bradford. You can find her on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter. Find out more about the Don’t Go to Bradford campaign on the University’s website.

For quite a few years before Bradford ran this campaign, there were always a few problems the University had to overcome at UCAS fairs; often, no-one really knew where Bradford was and, crucially, students were often being told not to go to Bradford by their parents or friends. There were misconceptions that Bradford was a dull, Northern city where it always rained and there was nothing to do.

They looked at their open day analysis and realised that, if they could get a student to the campus, that student would be more inclined to go to Bradford. So, it became clear that they needed more students to be happy to think about Bradford and happy to come to an open day.

The idea for saying ‘Don’t go to Bradford’ came from the fact that the phrase kept coming up – from parents and friends – at UCAS fairs or on open days.

That sentence became quite prominent in our discussions about it…how can we stop them using the phrase ‘Don’t go to Bradford’?

It started as a flippant comment on an away day, but grew legs – especially after researching the power of reverse psychology.

The campaign really sets about busting myths about Bradford – both the city and the University – and they did that myth busting with the help of their students. The video stars Bradford students and they helped create the script.

I remember when we started work on the video – I had a couple of students come to my office one day and they were outraged that we were going make something telling people not to go to Bradford. We had a long conversation where I had to remind them that, about four years previously, when they were thinking of coming from Kent or Newcastle, about what it was like for them considering coming to Bradford.

The students offered plenty of great tips about the city – even pointing out spots that the University’s staff didn’t know about.

Here’s what the video looks like – in case you’ve not seen it before.

There’s no doubt that this was a brave and bold approach to marketing a University and it came from Emma deciding to either tackle the problem face on, or not touch it at all.

I’m very proud of the team I have working for me – they are bold and brave and bring new ideas.

Emma’s team aimed to be bold and cut through the noise to really hammer home their message.

I’d by lying if I said there wasn’t a risk with this campaign – because there was. But I’d really be lying if I said I was absolutely petrified to run it…it’s bold and it’s risky, however, something has got to be done.

Emma says you need to do your research, be good on your stakeholder management and have a strong team working with you to pull something like this off.

It wasn’t too difficult for the campaign to get signed off internally, as Emma’s bosses had faith in her and understood the research behind it. Outside of the University, it was a little different, with Emma having to to spend her first conversation with the then-new CEO of Bradford Council explaining why her team was making a video telling people not to come to the city!

That was perhaps the riskiest part – I promised her that, when she saw the first cut of the video, if she didn’t like it and it didn’t help her in her mission for her own city, we wouldn’t run the campaign and we wouldn’t run the video.

As it happens, the Council loved it and it gave them a voice alongside the University.

The video first went live shortly before A-level results day in 2016, handily coming into play for clearing that year. The video was sent to a lot of potential students in Bradford’s CRM system, it was shared on social media and within the clearing period, the University had paid for the video thanks to the amount of students that came in.

The video is a brilliant ice-breaker

Current students loved it, as did alumni – some who hadn’t been back to city for many years. It also caused a buzz in the sector – it’s still talked about and it has won some awards…and, it has allowed Emma to talk to peers within the sector about being bold in their campaigns.

So, where can Bradford go next? A sequel called ‘Seriously, don’t go to Bradford?’ Perhaps? It was pondered, but has been decided against.

I’ve been asked that question so much – I thought that, well, Spaced only ran for two seasons and it’s good when people know when to stop. If you did it again, it wouldn’t have the same effect.

However, that’s not to say Emma wouldn’t want to go bold again – without a shadow of a doubt.

Emma’s top three tips for taking a risk and making a bold and brave campaign

  1. Definitely do your research

2. Definitely get buy-in from the appropriate stakeholders – that’s not everyone, it’s enough to make it work

3. Believe in yourself


5 apps on your phone you use the most

BBC News, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, BBC Good Food and Instagram

4 people you’d like to invite round for dinner

Nigella Lawson, Dame Millicent Fawcett, Peter Kay and Idris Elba

3 words to describe what it’s like working for the University of Bradford

Friendly, diverse and creative

2 places/events in the world you’d really love to visit but haven’t been able to yet

Prague and Dublin

1 social media platform you love more than any of the others


Find out more

Emma Bridge is the Associate Director for Marketing and Communications at the University of Bradford. You can find her on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter. Find out more about the Don’t Go to Bradford campaign on the University’s website.

Vote for The Native Podcast

Enjoy this podcast? The British Podcast Awards has a ‘listeners’ choice category and I’d really appreciate it if you would cast a vote in our direction…simply head to britishpodcastawards.com/vote search for The Native Podcast, select this show and pop in your details and you’ll be done and we’ll be your friend for ever – voting closes on 17 May 2018.

Thanks to #ASDIE18

The Native Podcast is brought to you by ASDIE, the Annual Summit for Digital Innovation in Education, which takes place in London on Thursday 19 July. Book your ticket now, and use the code POD10 to get a 10% discount!


The Native Podcast is hosted and produced by Dave Musson, our editor-in-chief.

Our music is by Broke For Free and is used under Creative Commons.

Get involved!

Want to be guest on a future episode of The Native Podcast? Get in touch!

Related Posts