Those Weird College Ads (If you like our football team, you'll love our chem labs full of Asian students...)
College-football bowl season is a time for America's top corporate sponsors to strut their stuff on a national stage. But it's not just corporations like Gaylord Hotels, Meineke, and EV1.net who plaster their names and logos all over our television screens. The 56 universities represented in this year's bowlapalooza also have the chance to sell themselves to a national audience.
And no, they don't let their football teams speak for themselves. America's colleges and universities try to make an impression with "institutional spots"—trade parlance for the promotional television commercials they use to sell themselves. The ads typically run for 30 seconds during halftime. As state-school spokespersons are quick to point out, colleges don't pay for the airtime—the slots are provided at no cost under most college-football television contracts.
The standard mise-en-scène of the institutional spot will be familiar to any dedicated college-sports watcher: campus greenery, one-on-one pedagogy, chemistry labs, black gowns and mortarboards, and laughing/hugging students of as many colors as possible. Those are just the ingredients, though. A survey of more than 30 of this year's bowl ads reveals many different tactics for selling higher education.