6 Branding Lessons Illuminated by the University of Virginia’s Holiday Light Decorations

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The University of Virginia’s (UVA) holiday light decorations on the Lawn and Rotunda are quite and admirable sight to see. Admiring these lights led me to realize this could be a perfect opportunity to illuminate some branding lessons exemplified by this holiday light display.

UVA is a public research university located in Charlottesville, VA founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson. It is a large university with 21,985 students enrolled as of 2016. The historic part of the grounds (UVA speak for the campus)–including the Rotunda, the Lawn, and the Range –is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also a place where current UVA students, professors, and staff live, study, work, or spend leisure time. It is open to the community as well as visitors from all over who stop by UVA as part of their trip to experience all that Charlottesville has to offer. It is a community in of itself as well as part of the larger Charlottesville community. Additionally a community recovering from the events of August 11th and 12th earlier this year. (Also a location where UVA alums like myself like to return to visit, take photos of the holiday lights and write blog posts using the photos to illustrate important points about branding).

UVA holiday light decorations on the Lawn and Rotunda help convey its brand message that encompasses all of this–past, present, and future.

1. Illuminate what is iconic, appealing, or unique

The Rotunda is an iconic building at UVA as well as in Charlottesville. It is so iconic that it is even a part of UVA’s logo! It is often featured in designs depicting Charlottesville as well. The holiday lights illuminate the entire outline of the building, including the dome-shaped roof and the columns. In branding your business, organization, blog, etc. be sure to illuminate what is iconic, appealing, or unique in a way that visually appeals to your ideal audience.

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The University of Virginia’s iconic Rotunda illuminated with holiday lights. Photo © Jillian Regan 2017

2. Paying attention to and maintaining the small details

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A close look at a strand of holiday lights at the University of Virginia, with the iconic Rotunda in the background. Photo © Jillian Regan 2017

The holiday lights are well maintained, with the light bulbs closely inspected and any burnt out light bulbs replaced before the strands of lights are hung. Paying attention to and maintaining the small details of what make up your overall brand image is important. You wouldn’t want your brand to look like a patchy strand of holiday lights with light bulbs burnt out here and there!


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Holiday Lights decorating and Christmas Tree inside Pavilion II on the Lawn at the University of Virginia. Photo © Jillian Regan 2017.

3. Having both inside and outside lights conveying the same brand voice and message

Having the inside “lights” that can be seen from the outside conveying the same brand message an important component of branding. For example, Pavilion II on UVA’s Lawn has traditional, elegant looking holiday lights illuminating its columns and balcony on the outside of the building. The lit Christmas tree inside the Pavilion can be seen from the outside and it’s lighting reflects the same image of tradition and elegance as the holiday lights on the outside. For a brand, this could mean making sure that the tone, words, and any visual images used in things like email messages align with the exterior brand image displayed by the storefront or the website.

4. Allowing and encouraging customers, clients, users, etc. to engage with the brand and add their own voices 

Students who live in the dorm rooms along the Lawn at UVA can decorate their own doorways with holiday lights. Some students choose multicolor lights while others choose the more traditional white colored lights, reflecting their different personalities and styles. Seeing these different mixes of different kinds of holiday lights in conjunction with the holiday lights and decor provided by the university are a visual reminder that this is a historic campus but with a diverse student body is currently learning and growing into young professionals starting on their careers as well as cutting edge research is being conducted. For a brand, this could mean featuring images of customers using the products or services offered, showing how the customer uses it, for example how they use home decor items from the brand in their own home.

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The East side of the Lawn rooms decorated with holiday lights at the University of Virginia. Photo © Jillian Regan 2017

5. Having different components align well to convey the brand’s voice

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The doors to the University of Virginia’s iconic Rotunda are decorated with holiday wreaths while the columns have holiday lights. Photo © Jillian Regan 2017

While the holiday lights hung on the columns of the Rotunda, in front of the doors, are a traditional white color reflecting the historic and iconic nature of the building and the university, these strands of lights would not work well hung on the doors themselves, so instead holiday wreaths are used on the doors. These holiday wreaths have the same traditional, iconic holiday look to visually convey the same look and feeling as the holiday lights. Your brand’s voice consists of many different components, the images, the logo, the way that you write or speak when representing the brand, the colors and fonts that you use, and more. Having all of these different components aligned in a way that they all work together to convey the same message helps your brand to feel more cohesive and allows your ideal audience to better connect with your brand.


6. Thinking about how customers, clients, users, etc. might be viewing the brand from different perspectives.

It is important to consider different perspectives customers, clients, users, etc. might have. For example, the strands of holiday lights on the columns of the Rotunda at UVA appear different when viewed from a side angle compared to when they are viewed directly from the front. A couple of the strands appear to have sections that are not lit, when in fact they are, but because of the angle of view, the lit part of those strands is hidden behind the columns. Similarly, when viewed from a different perspective, parts of your branding might convey a slightly different message or brand voice than what you intended to convey. Try to find ways so that all the strands of lights appear would appear to be lit, so to speak, even when viewed from different perspectives.

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A view from a side angle of the holiday lights decorating UVA’s Rotunda. Photo © Jillian Regan 2017

**Opinions are my own and may or may not reflect the views of the University of Virginia or any of its affiliated organizations. I am a UVA alumna (Class of 2014, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences) as well as former employee, but all views and images are solely expressing the opinions of Jillian Regan, Jillian Regan Photography, LLC, and The Regan Creative and was not written for, on behalf of, or sponsored by UVA nor any of its affiliated organizations. (Although I do hope any UVA alumni, students, faculty, staff, employees, fans, family, or friends reading this blog post enjoy it. Wahoowa! Go Hoos!)**

Jillian Regan is a professional photographer based in Charlottesville, VA. She focuses on, corporate/commercial (for business / organizations / freelance professionals), equine / equestrian (horses), and event photography. She enjoys creating images that help visually tell the story in a brand’s or individual’s unique voice in ways that help them better visually communicate with their ideal audience.

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