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The required coursework for this degree program will be organized into five progressive segments: Culture, Behavior, Business, Commerce and Creative. Each discipline will work both independently and cohesively with the others, but rigorous attention will be paid to each field to determine and define the modern practice of branding. Degree candidates must successfully complete 36 credits, including all required courses, with a cumulative grade point average of 3.0. A residency of one academic year is required.

The summer semester is dedicated to the thesis. The outcome of the Master of Professional Studies in Branding will be a comprehensive conference and exhibit that will allow students to show, display, articulate and defend the premise of their new brand and showcase their work to the design, business and branding communities. Ultimately, the thesis must be reviewed and approved by an appointed thesis committee and the department chair in order for the student to be eligible for degree conferral.

There will be a mandatory Guest Speaker Lecture Series bringing exposure, interaction and inspiration from esteemed practitioners in the branding and business community.


• Successful completion of 36 credits, including all required courses. Students are required to attend every scheduled class meeting, complete readings, participate actively in class discussions, and create an original body of work, culminating in the successful defense of the graduate thesis. Documentation of all thesis projects must be on file in the MPS Branding Department to be eligible for degree conferral. 

• Three semesters (10 months) of residency (fall, spring and summer). Students must complete their degree within three semesters, unless given an official extension by the provost. 

• Branding grades on a pass/fail system. Students are required to remain in good academic standing.

Requirements - Fall Semester

BRG-5220  A Unified Theory of Branding
BRG-5260  The Meaning of Branded Objects
BRG-5280  Business and Branding Strategies
BRG-5340  Brand Failures: 1970 to the Present
BRG-5410  The Evolution of CPG Brands and Package Design
BRG-5460  The Anthropology of Branding
BRG-5860  Lecture Series: Design Matters Radio Podcast I

Requirements - Spring Semester

BRG-5560  Practices in Design and Market Research
BRG-5620  Analysis, Insight and Forecasting
BRG-5630  Brand Physics
BRG-5660  Pitch Perfect: How to Win New Business
BRG-5760  The Power of Persuasion
BRG-5820  A Brand Called You
BRG-5865  Lecture Series: Design Matters Radio Podcast II

Requirements - Summer Semester

BRG-5930  Summer Workshops
BRG-5950  Thesis: Repositioning Brands and Experiences

General Course Listing

A Unified Theory of Branding
Fall semester: 3 credits
Leading the definition and evolution of a world-class brand requires more than intellectual rigor and insight. You must unify and leverage the expertise and efforts of an astounding array of people—leaders, followers, scientists, artists, magicians (consultants), engineers, establishmentarians and revolutionaries. In this course, you will learn to use powerful frameworks that harmonize and focus the efforts of diverse teams as they develop ambitious brand programs. Using real-world case studies—including Caterpillar, Bank of America, DuPont, Harley-Davidson and National Semiconductor—we will look inside the processes that enable organizations to define the future of their brands. The course will provide you with a unique perspective of how research, strategic definition, identity, expression, communications and behavior are shaped into great brands. 

The Meaning of Branded Objects
Fall semester: no credit
Brands transform objects into meaning-bearers. This course will explore the collective and individual history of this transformation. As we have evolved from hunter-gatherers into robustly cultural beings, objects themselves have also evolved: from disposable, purely functional extensions of the body to deeply personal, even cherished, expressions of an individual’s life. We will examine the history and insights of individual and social psychology in shaping the context for 21st-century perceptions of, and relationships with, the things that surround us. Concretely, we will investigate the increasingly sophisticated manner in which brands have gained and integrated quantitative and qualitative insights into our lives (and our cultural contexts) to create opportunities for complex, meaning-centered relationships between people and things. Students will use their own experiences as the starting point for this exploration into the lived-meaning of individual brands and their collective role in the construction of modern personal identity. 

Business and Branding Strategies
Fall semester: 3 credits
From developing a brand personality to discovering invisible brand assets, this course is about creating brand value, strategy and business literacy. We’ll review core branding disciplines such as developing brand positioning, mission statement, brand character, naming and brand architecture. We’ll take a look at financial valuation models, as well as creative methods for discovery and ideation, and why a strong brand strategy is like an organization’s DNA, serving as a blueprint for strategy and informing other activities such as leadership, marketing, product development, communication, design and advertising. Discussions based on case studies and readings will also use worksheets as a lens, and provide a platform to examine forces and dynamics that shape brands from traditional corporate to entrepreneurial startups. We’ll touch on globalization, technology, critical thinking, culture and lifestyle. 

Brand Failures: 1970 to the Present
Fall semester: 3 credits
Brand Failures will consider consumer and corporate brands through the lenses of yesterday, today and tomorrow. It will discuss the principles of branding by highlighting successes and failures over the past five decades. The course endeavors to anticipate how brands can evolve and remain relevant by applying the fundamentals of good branding through modern forms of communication. 

The Evolution of CPG Brands and Package Design
Fall semester: 3 credits
Consumer brands, and the retail marketplace that supports them, have evolved through several stages in the last 150 years. Each has been strongly influenced by culture, events and the changes of the retail markets of which they are a part. The first three stages, from the 1850s through the 1990s, can be described as the era of the retailer, the era of the manufacturer and the era of the brand. The last decade has seen an evolution of brand activity toward a focus on consumer experience and lifestyle. Where does the CPG brand stand today and what is its future? This course will review the historical evolution of CPG brand identities though the lens of retail brand identity and package design. We will review, decade by decade, the relatively brief history of CPG brand identities, and the aesthetic and cultural influences that have shaped their path. While reviewing these historical precedents, students will develop an informed judgment on where CPG brand identities are today and where they may be headed. 

The Anthropology of Branding
Fall semester: 3 credits
Brands occupy a complex role within cultural spaces—there is an ongoing dialogue between the historically situated culture of consumers who interact with brands (including the language and semiotics of representation), other brands in the same and adjacent social spaces, and the branded experience or object itself, each influencing the other in an evolving fashion. In this course we will use some of the interpretive techniques of observational social sciences, specifically anthropology and linguistics, to analyze, deconstruct and interpret what a “brand” is, how it accrues meaning and influences perception and behavior, and what role it can play in the lives of those who interact with it. We will also use these analyses to help understand what makes a successful brand, and how to interpret available data to create meaningful brands for target audiences. 

Practices in Design and Market Research
Spring semester: 3 credits
Brands have historically relied heavily on marketing techniques to help establish and strengthen their presence. That is changing quickly, as instant global communication and various forms of social networking have replaced the need for consumers to rely on brands for confidence in a purchase. In this project-based course, students will learn how to create a research plan, find participants, and integrate research methods in the context of a specific branding project. Some of the topics explored will be qualitative, quantitative, online and ethnographic interview techniques, video and photo documentary, immersion, participant-aided data gathering, prototype assisted observation, methods for organizing data, finding patterns and distilling insights that lead to actionable and inspiring design directives. We will also explore the differences between market research and design research, and understand the goals and appropriateness of each. 

Analysis, Insight and Forecasting
Spring semester: 3 credits
Cultural change is neither unpredictable nor random. The seeds of the next are buried in the now, in the psyche of the individual and in the collective mind called “culture.” In this course, students will learn to read deeply and carefully the cultural signs that surround them in order to recognize underlying patterns and learn to translate these patterns into actionable human and cultural insights, valuable throughout the lifecycle of any product or brand. We will also explore how to leverage trend analysis to forecast paradigmatic shifts in human behavior and culture as well as in the marketplace. Students will complete the course with the means to identify and leverage the patterns underlying the most powerful and beloved cultural artifacts and brands. 

Brand Physics
Spring semester: 3 credits
Brands, at their best, create emotional bonds between people and organizations, as well as movements, businesses or products. They guide and shape behavior, establish instant recognition, and become valued and valuable by facilitating achievement of ambitions, large and small. In order to ensure a brand is meaningful, relevant and remarkable, a brand brief is created. The brief acts as a guideline, instructions and a set of tools that unify understanding, intention and action. In this course students will explore the physics of branding and how to apply them to create differentiated and desired brands. Students will hone their skills in pattern recognition and learn how to identify critical observations and their business implications. We’ll also practice the art and science of evidence-based insight development through qualitative and quantitative research methods. Etymology and storytelling in service of creating emotionally connective and differentiated brand positioning will also be examined. Students will then apply all of these skills as they work with a client who will provide us with a real brand challenge to solve. 

Pitch Perfect: How to Win New Business
Spring semester: 3 credits
Winning significant branding assignments from noteworthy companies is an art and a science—one that requires intelligence, collaboration and the ability to connect on a human level. In a short span of time, potential agency partners need to understand the challenge quickly and find ways to demonstrate distinct value to a client. In this course, multidisciplinary teams will learn to identify a powerful customer insight that can grow a client’s business. Using strategic frameworks to outline a point of view, each team will develop and present a pitch to evolve a well-known brand that faces many challenges. Final presentations will be delivered as an engaging and creative experience to industry leaders. 

The Power of Persuasion
Spring semester: no credit
Persuasion is everywhere, influencing us thousands of times a day, both directly and indirectly, to buy something, support something, or think differently about something. Persuasion is a critical weapon in the arsenal of brands, nonprofits, the government, the press, and anyone interested in molding and shaping attitudes. A venerable art form handed down to us by the ancient Greeks, persuasion is still vibrant today but significantly evolved due to the volume, speed, institutionalization, subtlety and complexity of our messages. In this seminar we will examine how effective persuasive techniques are informed by modern theories of persuasion and classical rhetoric, using examples found in everyday life. Students will craft persuasive messages using framing techniques and theories with the goal of becoming more effective communicators and more critical judges of social influence attempts. 

A Brand Called You
Spring semester: 3 credits
The good news: We are now living in what Businessweek has called a “creative economy.” The bad news: More than ever before, design will be called upon to deliver a return on investment and measured performance in the marketplace. How can you truly quantify your talent and develop strategic and competitive intelligence? How can you quantify meaningful differentiation in a world already filled with branding firms, creative strategists and brand gurus? This course will address: How to create a meaningful philosophy that can guide your career, how to present yourself in meetings and interviews, how to network and stand out from your competition, how to create discipline in your approach to work, and how to sell yourself with more confidence. Additionally, students will participate in a 100-Day project, an individual experience of undertaking a design/brand/marketing/creative operation that each student will repeat every day for 100 consecutive days during the second half of the program. 

BRG-5860 / BRG-5865
Lecture Series: Design Matters Radio Podcast I
Two semesters: no credit
Design Matters is a thought-provoking podcast series that profiles industry-leading brand consultants, graphic designers, entrepreneurs, change agents, artists, writers, educators and musicians. In 2011, the series was awarded a Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award. Lectures are recorded live at the MPS Branding studio in front of a student audience. After each podcast, students have exclusive time with all guests for Q&A sessions. 

Summer Workshops
Summer semester: no credit
Prior to the final thesis course, students will participate in a series of workshops that address various aspects of practice and theory, and will explore areas such as the adaptation of cultural values to the brand, the maintenance of brand integrity, global design strategies and brand relevance to target markets. Where applicable, case studies will supplement workshop topics. 

Thesis: Repositioning Brands and Experiences
Summer semester: 6 credits
The MPSB thesis is focused on investigating societal constructs around government and public policy, innate belief systems, behavioral norms, human rights and culture. It is organized on repositioning and rebranding selected significant brands. Criteria for the chosen brands include: brands that have “fallen” but have the possibility for recovery; brands with deep relevance, longevity and historical legacy; brands that respect or convey a core human value or signify something important to our lives. In addition, the MPSB thesis should add meaningful discourse to a cultural or global conversation.


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