Colleges Rewrite Playbook on Recruiting Ads

Stanford, UCLA TV Ads Showcase Innovation, Humor

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SAN FRANCISCO ( -- Each year the networks give away millions of dollars' worth of air time to colleges as part of their NCAA football and basketball programming.

And each year, just as the leaves fall and the dorms fill up, colleges roll out what has become a pro-forma TV spot: the professor in the lab coat with the chem-class beaker, the students lounging on the lawn in front of the ivy-covered brick building.

Now, some schools are trying harder to sell their product -- one that costs about $100,000 or more in the form of tuition.

UCLA has come up with a spot from Paul Keye & Partners directed by alumnus Brent Thomas that focuses on a number of alums and the moment they realized UCLA was for them. And Stanford University, one of the most prestigious universities in the country, is adding a healthy dose of irreverence to its message. Three spots from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Dailey & Associates, West Hollywood, Calif., look at the world-changing inventions developed at the college.

Important innovations
In the spirit of its cheeky marching band, which once dropped its collective pants at half time, one spot discusses how Stanford's faculty discovered the laser, which has helped "harness the power of light and has since advanced everything from modern medicine to manufacturing," with its full potential still to be reached. The visual, however, shows a cat chasing a red dot made by a laser in a hallway.

Another execution uses the same deadpan voice-over to describe how Stanford for more than 100 years has "developed knowledge through exploration that has paved the way for world-changing inventions, such as the FM synthesizer."

A third spot, with a do-not-attempt warning, shows a marshmallow bunny heated in a microwave while the voice-over discusses the demands of the "arts and sciences" for innovations, and Stanford's development of the microwave, an "energy with more potential than anything that came before."

Each of the spots ends with a deadpan, "Hail. Stanford. Hail."

Bruce Miller, president of Dailey and a Stanford business-school grad, said the ad agency came up with the campaign after a study of what other universities were doing with their free air time. He plans to leverage the spot through word-of-mouth among faculty, students and friends.

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