School: University of Texas. Don't mess with them.
Ad title:: "What Starts Here Changes The World." (Click on any of them.)
EDSBS title:: "Texas: We've Still Got That Bigass Tower Where the Crazy Sniper Was."
Setup: Actually a series of ads all based on the same model: schwoopy helicopter shots of Austin from the air, done Steadicam style for an even glide through the landscape. It's like being God or a confident William Katt buzzing the capital city of Texas; or maybe it's exactly what someone sees after downing their eighteenth Jaeger shot of the night after finals and passing out on their lawn. The landscapes include a time-lapse overview of Austin at night, but also a scary, post-apocalyptic hazy shot of the Austin skyline. (U of Texas: the school for Road Warrior fetishists!) The imagery drifts by while Walter Cronkite, Texas alum, reads vague, visionary stuff over the low-end synth track that was probably playing during your last professional massage or sexual encounter with a Wiccan.
If you hosted a meeting of the mindsa place where the right-brained dreamers inspired the left-brained doerswhere would you gather? Were Texas. What starts here changes the world.
If Walt had asked us to come to Texas, you'd probably be reading a Longhorns blog right now.
Each commercial finishes with the same finishing shot of the University of Texas Tower and the Texas logo on a burnt orange background.
Subtext: Umm...Texas: we're big. And floaty and vague. But kind of cool, too, and not hung up that our symbol, the Texas Tower, still makes everyone think of Charles Whitman. Actually, the ad is yet another step in UT's attempts to exorcise the demons of the Whitman incident from the tower, which began with its reopening to the public in the late '90s. We wish them luck in their continuing efforts, since the first two things we thought when we saw the commercial were:
a.) Holy shit Walter Cronkite!
b.) Holy shit that's where that crazy guy shot everyone from!
High: not only do you get film stock and expensive aerial shots of the campus, but you get Walter Cronkite, the man who taught us how to speak English. Texas sets a new high in terms of willingness to go for the fancy ketchup when it comes to production values.
Hits: Besides the production values? A nearly complete lack of cliche. Not a microscope shot to be found in the whole commercial. A bonanza for the "branding" crowd, since the ads focus more on the Texas mystique than, say, showing off their epic map collection or new physics lab. A good example of the "Poof! Come to (insert school name here) because we're special" ad that you either buy from the get go or drop on first sight. Did we mention lush production values?
Misses: The Tower. We know, it's the symbol of the university, it's the brand...but we still can't think it without picturing a crazed ex-Marine with a high-powered rifle sitting up there. Coming from a university with a lesser but no less terrifying heritage of random crime--Danny Rolling--we can sympathize. It's hard to shake something like that once it's happened, which explains a lot about why UF freshman girls often arrive in Gainesville with Rottweilers, pepper spray, and a new handgun happily purchased for them by their parents. (No lie--sitting in class once, a fellow student not only owned up to carrying a gun with her, but volunteered to show everyone her piece right there in class. The prof quickly put a kibosh to this before any other university codes were broken and begged her to keep her gun in her purse, even if she had a concealed weapons permit for it.)
(Bonus creepy story: we knew someone who rented a Gatorwood apartment where two of Rolling's victims were killed. Unbelieveably, they got zero break in the rent. Bummer.)
The Enya-ish stuff in the background of concept ads always irks us, too, but count it as a matter of minor annoyance. What else are they going to play, "Whiskey River?" Plus we're thinking about the two hot Wiccans we know just hearing it...on second thought, the music's not so bad at all. But deduct points for being too mysterian about the whole affair: some ads are Stone Cold Steve Austin, telling you exactly how far up your ass his black leather boot is going to go. This one's more of a Papa Shango, holding up a totem in a smoky room while muttering a spell in your general direction.
Summary grade: B A high-class ad that goes a bit too far into the atmospheric. Next time use a little less Papa Shango and a little more Stone Cold, and we'll be talking about a veritable submisssion hold of a university ad.
Texas' ad needs less Papa Shango to it.