December 12, 2005

Students' commercial to air during Super Bowl

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- In the world of television advertising, there is no bigger stage than the Super Bowl. Companies pour loads of money into hyping the innovative and entertaining commercials specially produced for the premier sports event.

A class of radio-television students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will get a taste of that rarified air in February when a commercial they now are producing hits the airwaves, entering about 150,000 homes throughout the region in the process.

Banterra Bank hired the students to produce the 30-second spot, which is scheduled to air between the first and second quarters of the game on Feb. 5. WSIL-TV, which reaches homes in Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri, will broadcast the game.

The project is another in a long-standing practice in the Department of Radio-Television that involves private business clients hiring students for broadcast advertising services. The process allows the students to gain real world experience while clients get a top-quality commercial.

"I can talk in class about broadcast advertising, but this lets them see how it works in real life," said Scott Hodgson, associate professor in radio-television and the instructor for the class. "This gives us a chance to take theory and concepts into practice. And that's why a lot of students come to SIUC – the hands-on training."

As is the case with many such "event" commercials, the premise of the Banterra Bank spot is a secret. The class, however, is producing a separate "teaser" commercial aimed at sparking interest in the main commercial that will begin airing three weeks before the Super Bowl. The teaser commercial depicts the students brainstorming ideas for the main commercial.

The students say the experience has been priceless.

"It's awesome," said Brian Wempen, 22, a senior from Assumption who is co-producing the commercial. "We have a real client and there's lots of pressure. It's quite the learning experience and really exciting."

The process started at the beginning of the fall semester with brainstorming sessions aimed at formulating the most effective concept for the commercial. The class split into four groups, with each pursuing a different concept and writing the scripts and storyboards to illustrate their idea. The groups each pitched their finished concept to Banterra officials, who chose the one they liked best.

The class then united around the chosen – and secret – concept and turned their attention toward production. Using a state-of-the-art high definition video camera, the students shot the commercial Dec. 3. The production shoot included about 40 people, half of them actors.

"It was amazing how much organization it all took," said Carla Cozzi, 21, a senior from New Lenox who is co-producing with Wempen. "There is so much that has to be done step by step – the catering, the casting, the lighting. It's great we get to do this as students. Some people in the industry will never get to work on a Super Bowl commercial."

Class time serves as a production meeting, with the various crews updating one another on where they stand. The students do much of the actual work – writing, producing and editing – outside the classroom.

"We've put in a lot of hours," said Justin Kramer, 21, a senior from Liberty, Mo., who is helping promote the commercial. "It's a unique experience and it might give us an edge to put on our resume."

The class is now in the process of refining and cutting the footage for the final product.

Mel Bower, director of marketing for Banterra Bank, said his experience at SIUC as both an undergraduate and graduate student prompted his interest in hiring the students.

"Being an alumnus of SIUC, I knew they would do high-quality work, whether it was students or not. As a student there, I got lots of real world experiences too," said Bower, who received his bachelor's degree in organizational communication in 1998 and his master's in public relations in 2000. "Plus we were interested in the partnership -- giving back to the community through SIUC."

Promoting excellence in undergraduate education is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University if following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.