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BU Airs New Ads on TV, Online

Explaining what and why of a research university in 30 seconds


Encapsulating the mission of a flourishing research university in a 30-second video seems to defy the laws of physics, but that was the task put to Doug Gould, executive creative director of BU Marketing and Communications, just four months after he took the job. Gould had been in challenging positions before. As a vice president at Boston ad agency Hill Holliday, he had been art director for two Super Bowl ads for Anheuser-Busch, including the haunting post-9/11 spot that showed the brewery’s iconic Clydesdales bowing reverently before the New York skyline.

In August, Gould was asked by President Robert A. Brown to craft new University ads for use during TV sportscasts, online, and on other venues. The next five weeks would be a blizzard of writing, planning, and shooting, culminating in a three-day shoot that he considers among the most stressful choreography jobs of his 30-year career. When it was over, Gould had created three ads (each with two versions, a 30-second and a 60-second one). The first began running October 20 on the Patriot League Network.

“On the web, there’s no time restriction” like the 30 seconds demanded by television, says Gould, who is also a College of Communication adjunct professor. On TV, the ads will run for the rest of the academic year on the Patriot League Network and Terrier TV and occasionally on NESN, CBS, and ESPN3.

BU had previously advertised its athletic programs during game broadcasts, but after the University joined the academically elite Patriot League, says Gould, Brown “noticed, correctly, that other universities in the league were not selling sports” in their game-time ads, but were focusing instead on “what the university is accomplishing, what the students are up to, what it’s like to attend.”

Two of the ads, titled “Be” and “Selfie,” aim at prospective students and parents, providing a micro view of what BU offers students. The third, a macro ad, addresses the mission of a research university. Titled “Why,” it’s “a very elevated, conceptual piece that’s about what this University is up to. We’re answering big questions,” Gould says.

“Why” stars students speaking their native language—English, Chinese, Pashtun, Arabic—each asking the question at the heart of their academic pursuit: “Why can’t we find other life in the universe?” “Why is the stock market so unpredictable?” “Why must we endure awful disease?” “Why do people struggle against each other?” The last person answers, “‘Why’ is why we’re here.”

“I thought I would have the chance to share my four-year experiences to highlight the charm and uniqueness of BU,” says Hang Qin (CAS’16), who holds a picture of melting glaciers in the “Why” ad and asks two questions in Chinese: “Why is this happening so fast?” and “Why do some believe and others deny?”

Qin says he has “benefited a lot from BU’s excellent educational resources and professors.…Every day, I wake up at 5 o’clock due to passion about my dreams instead of clock alarms.…If I could share my experiences with coming young people, I think they will get some inspirations from me. That is why I want to participate in this campaign.”

Boston University Television Advertisement NEIDL

“Why can’t we stop this?” this Ebola researcher asks in one of BU’s new TV and online ads.

Accompanied by a pulsing background theme, “Be” races through scenes of professors and students pursuing various activities—from working to create a bionic pancreas to donning haz-mat suits at the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories to athletic practices, all while words flash on the screen: “Be Inventive,” “Be a Fighter,” “Be Demanding.” It concludes with the words “Be You,” the letters then collapsing to “BU.”

“Selfie” plays off the ubiquity of self-taken photos. It’s a metaphor for “our own self-discovery, which is what selfies are, telling stories about ourselves,” Gould says. Showcasing again a variety of pursuits at BU, the camera catches students offering twists on the same line: “I found myself fighting Ebola,” “I found myself with a poet laureate,” “I found myself winning an argument” (that one a School of Law student).

In the capper, Mari Andreatta (COM’19), standing on the eighth-floor balcony at the Questrom School of Business, the panorama of Boston stretching behind her, says, “I found myself—at BU.”

Andreatta signed up for the ad after seeing an Instagram promo seeking a “current Terrier who loves your school,” she says. “I am far from my home in California, but BU has easily become a second home to me. I’m a freshman and still have a lot of learning and growing left to do, but BU has already helped me to begin to find myself.”

Lovie Burleson (CGS’17), one of the selfie-taking students, says, “I wanted to be in this ad because I wanted people to see how great a school BU is.”

Working with Boston’s Element Productions, Gould recruited 111 student volunteers (plus some professors) and he shot them all on an unforgiving schedule, 12 hours a day during 3 consecutive days in October. “I’ve never had this amount of movement with this amount of people in my career,” he says. To top it off, nature was not cooperative: it rained two of the three days.

“Selfie” was supposed to show a LAW student outside her school, telling the camera, “I found myself at sunrise.” But the sun didn’t rise that rainy morning. “She was there at 6 a.m. on the bus with the rest of us,” Gould recalls. Improvising, he had them shoot in LAW’s photogenic new atrium, with the rewritten line, “I found myself in awe.”

Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

7 Comments on BU Airs New Ads on TV, Online

  • Logic Rules on 11.06.2015 at 7:18 am

    While it may pay to advertise, I wonder if Harvard, Yale or Oxford do the same?
    Why must we do this? Actions and accomplishments speak louder than words.

    • Alex on 11.06.2015 at 10:06 am

      You’re so right. Because having an extra 200-700 years of history and the ability to monopolize a market have nothing to do with that. Honestly, I don’t know why we haven’t jumped in our time machines yet and gone to a point where BU is comparable to the top .1% of universities in the world.

      • Alumnus on 11.06.2015 at 10:33 am

        I think BU’s product can stand on its own – no need for advertisement. The quality of students that BU churns out on an annual basis is a testament to the school. We wouldn’t want BU to become too commercialized.

  • Alum on 11.06.2015 at 8:29 am

    They did a great job. Love it. Great background track.

  • bruce jordan on 11.06.2015 at 9:22 am

    Doug, you’ve helped us all find more pride in being at B.U. Thank you!

  • Rupert Manlove on 11.06.2015 at 2:14 pm

    where’s the “partially funded by your undergraduate student fee” label that’s required?

  • gcollins on 11.07.2015 at 3:37 pm

    they should have shown more Boston University on the T sweat shirts and on the white lab jacket of the medical student. At the end you clearly see Boston U.
    I agree that BU can stand on its own merit but competition for students is strong.

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