University of Phoenix Taps WWII Icon Rosie the Riveter to Inspire Working Moms

180LA pays homage in 'We Can Do IT'

The classic symbol adapted to our age of automation. University of Phoenix

For its latest spot promoting for-profit institution University of Phoenix, 180LA turned to a ubiquitous symbol of American working women dating back to World War II: Rosie the Riveter.

In the animated 60-second spot, Rosie fulfills her usual role as an inspiring feminist icon. When a tireless mother sees the classic “We Can Do It” poster packed in a box after automation forces her out of a factory job, she decides to pursue a bachelors degree in information technology at the University of Phoenix.

Set to a cover of The Cranberries’ “Dreams,” the spot concludes with the woman at her new job, where she writes “IT” over the original “It” on the Rosie the Riveter poster hanging above her desk to hammer home the spot’s message in our increasingly mechanized age.

The ad, which made its debut during Monday’s finale of NBC’s The Voice, concludes with the “We Rise” tagline 180LA introduced with its first spot for University of Phoenix over a year ago, after triumphing in a creative review launched in September 2015.

“This universally relatable film is meant to create an emotional connection with people in similar situations, change perceptions and motivate both personal and professional growth,” 180LA group brand director Sandy Song said in a statement. “We felt Rosie was the ideal face for the campaign since she has inspired many women as a cultural icon since World War II. A good reminder that we all need to continually adapt to change.”

“The pace of change in today’s ever-changing workplace is unparalleled—it requires new competencies to be developed, skills to be fine-tuned and, in some cases, complete professional reinvention,” added University of Phoenix CMO Joan Blackwood. “At University of Phoenix, we know you are only obsolete if you decide not to take action on the change that happens around us.”

The ad’s focus on a working mother and Rosie the Riveter’s “We Can Do It” message aligns with the university’s core demographic. Its 2015 Academic Annual Report found that 76 percent of University of Phoenix students work while earning degrees, while 67 percent have dependents and 60 percent are first-generation college students.

The use of an iconic symbol associated with World War II may prove somewhat problematic, given past criticisms leveled at University of Phoenix for actively recruiting on military bases. In 2015, the Defense Department temporarily suspended the company from accessing federal funding for those service members or recruiting on location after the FTC announced that it had begun an investigation focused on alleged “deceptive marketing practices.

The network has moved to distance itself from such matters following parent company Apollo Education Group’s $1.1 billion acquisition by a private equity group led by Vistria Group and Apollo Global Management.


Agency: 180LA
Client: University of Phoenix
Campaign: “We Can Do IT”

Chief Marketing Officer: Joan Blackwood
VP, Brand Marketing: Monica Gaston
Executive Creative Director, Marketing: Jeff Preston
Director, Social Media Marketing: Mark Deyer

Chief Creative Officer: William Gelner
Executive Creative Directors: Eduardo Marques, Rafael Rizuto
ACD/Copywriter: Tylynne McCauley
ACD/Art Director: Brian Farkas
Head of Integrated Production: Natasha Wellesley
Executive Producer: Dominque Anzano
Group Brand Director: Sandy Song
Brand Director: Jillian Nalty
Account Coordinator: Nicole Dezzutti
Strategy Director: Kaleen Ogden
Strategic Planner: Tess McGourty
Director of Business Affairs: Loretta Zolliecoffer

Animation Production Co: Hornet
Directors: Dan Abdo, Jason Patterson
Art Director: Hyesung Park
Executive Producers: Hana Shimizu
Head of Production: Sang-Jin Bae
Producer: Niki DiCesare
Recording Mix
Recording Studio: Beacon Street Studios
Mixer: Amber Tisue
Executive Producer: Adrea Lavezzoli, Leslie DiLullo
Senior Producer: Kate Vadnais

Music Production: Beacon Street Studios
Executive Producer: Adrea Lavezzoli, Leslie DiLullo
Producer: Lindsey Lerman
Music Composers: Andrew Feltenstein, John Nau

Music Supervision: Good Ear Music Supervision

Sound Design: Beacon Street Studios
Sound Design: Amber Tisue
Senior Producer: Kate Vandals

@ErikDOster Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.