Gymnast Stacey Ervin soars high above hardwood tables at the Law Library, to complete a perfect backflip.
New Master of Music graduate Caitlin Eger plays her cello, flanked by algae tanks in the School of Natural Resources and Environment.
“Music can take you anywhere, I suppose,” she says.
The current and former students are featured in a new “Victors Valiant” public service announcement (PSA) video. It debuted at the Maize Out, Lights On Pep Rally Sept. 6, before its national TV premiere Sept. 7 during the Michigan-Notre Dame game. Along with broadcast TV, the spot will be presented through various U-M social media channels, including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
“We were really overdue to develop a new PSA for use during athletic broadcasts,” says Lisa Rudgers, vice president for global communications and strategic initiatives. “We decided to think way beyond a 30-second commercial only, though, since our need for high-quality video in social and online spaces far exceeds a half-minute story. Instead, we’ve developed a library of new video images that can be used not only in the upcoming PSA, but in long and short-form video opportunities across the university for several years to come.”
A key theme of the PSA is the university’s focus on collaboration to foster innovation. It is conveyed by juxtaposing athletics and law, music and science, and other combinations of disciplines.
The commercial also shows Solar Car Team member and engineering senior Sarah Spitzer, facing the camera from inside the car, parked in the tunnel at The Big House. Fatimah Farooq, a Dearborn LSA senior, is spotted in her bright red hijab, peering into a microscope in the Biomedical Science Research Building.
“Video is how many people learn about the university or reconnect with campus. It’s important to tell more of the breadth and depth of the Michigan experience,” Rudgers says.
The new library of images will enable the university to develop several iterations of the PSA, a new admissions video and videos for the upcoming fundraising campaign. The video library will be available for broad use across all the schools and colleges. “We’ve worked collaboratively across campus to leverage all these creative resources for maximum impact,” she says.
Matt Schlientz, director of marketing, says it’s important to acknowledge the role the Executive Marketing Council played. Beyond issuing the RFP which led to the selection of Lowe Campbell-Ewald to work with Michigan Creative to create footage to build the campaign, he says the council was involved in the creative concept phases of the PSA by revealing creative options, and working on scripts and storyboards.
“What has worked so well is the collaborative effort among the Executive Marketing Council team, Lowe Campbell-Ewald and the Michigan Creative team,” Schlientz says.
Kelly Fuligni, creative director with Michigan Creative, says it was important to highlight collaboration, innovation, arts and creativity in the spots, along with global reach and sustainability. “The spot needed to be spirited and illustrate what we stand for, and what our priorities are,” she says. Top video ad director Sean Thonson of the Los Angeles firm Supply and Demand was called in to produce video footage. The campaign also calls for print advertising — such as the still PSA images recently presented on campus kiosks and “The Cube” — and more videos.
In planning the campaign, Michigan Creative identified more than 125 of the best stories to tell, and distilled those to 50. Next, they scouted the most visually compelling locations, Fuligni says. Deans and administrators also made suggestions for sites to film. Staff coordinated casting calls for more than 75 students, then filmed for six days in late July and early August.
“We continually ran the spot through a brand sieve, to ensure it was in keeping with who we are: an academic powerhouse, with elite faculty and students, and a desire and drive to make the world a better place,” Fuligni says.
Steve Platto, creative director with Lowe Campbell-Ewald, says while many are aware of U-M’s great athletic programs, they also need to know that academic programs also are second to none.
“We want to convey the concept of prestige for the public good. Students come here and collaborate with fellow students and professors, they take what they learn and go out and make the world better. It’s something you’re not going to get at any other university,” Platto says.
To drive the message home, creative staff from within and outside the university came up with a theme likely to pack a dramatic impact. “We thought, what if we take a gymnast and put him in the Law Library, what if we put a cellist in a science lab, what if we put fencers in the engineering building?” Platto says. Beyond the dramatic impact of the images, the combinations suggest that one discipline can be inspired by another, offering a fresh, unexpected way to look at collaboration.
Creative teams agree that the most striking and successful segment was the backflip in the Law Library. “People audibly gasp when they see it. The music is also beautifully evocative. It stays with you long after the spot is over,” Fuligni says.
The gymnastic move performed by Ervin, a junior from Taylor, is known as the Cody layout. “I bounce on my stomach and push myself up in a vertical position, and do a backflip. The toughest part of the move is getting the height and rotation,” he says. Ervin says he performed the move 45 times during the filming, to get it just right.
Near the end of the shoot, one of the crew exclaimed, “This is one of the coolest things we’ve ever shot,” to which Ervin replied, “This is one of the greatest experiences of my life.” Later, he adds, “It was pure joy and excitement. It was such a unique experience to be able to do trampoline in our beautiful Law Library.”
Thonson has created broadcast commercials for auto companies including Infinity, Dodge and Mercedes, and ads promoting tourist destinations, among others. He has drawn particular notice for an ability to effectively portray subjects by inspired use of lighting and slow motion.
“I was blown away by the Law Library,” he says. He scouted it, among other suggested locations, for the best times to film. “I was impressed with how beautiful the university was, and how they blended classic architecture with modern buildings. The people were really friendly and excited about the work. Everything was a positive,” he says.
Also shown in the PSA is Cynthia Koenig, who graduated two and a half years ago with a joint master’s degree from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and the School of Natural Resources and Environment. “There was great support for pursuing a non-traditional career path at Michigan,” says Koenig, now with Mumbai, India-based firm Wello. It promotes a rolling water tank, which can be pushed like a lawn mower — an improved form of rural water transport, over women carrying heavy pots of water on their heads.
Koenig’s segment, filmed at the Varsity Tennis Center, shows her demonstrating the tank.
Margot Finn, a lecturer in university courses, on what she could not live without: “My existence would be profoundly different without the Internet (for research and communication).”
Audra McDonald performs favorite show tunes and more, 4 p.m. Sept. 15, Hill Auditorium.