Call it Division I advertising: for the past 72 hours, CU’s program has been quietly battling its counterpart at Brigham Young University. At 6 p.m. on Saturday, the trash talk and sleepless nights will end, and the only thing the students on both sides of the Rockies will be able to do is wait.
About four months ago, BYU, which boasts one of the most prestigious advertising programs in the nation, challenged the University of Texas to an “Adfight” in which both universities would create ambitious campaigns for a hypothetical client. The competition would be judged by a neutral professional ad agency. UT eventually backed out, and BYU shifted its focus to CU.
After months of back-and-forth communication, the details were fleshed out: creatives at the Richmond, Va.-based Martin Agency would be the judges and come up with a client, and the students would have from 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 3 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 6 to conceptualize a campaign and bring it to life.
The 18 CU students participating in the Adfight are members of a senior portfolio class taught by Barrett Brynestad and Austin O’Connor, who both work at the Boulder agency TDA.
“Throughout this whole process, we’ve encouraged our students to run the competition as if they are their own small agency,” Brynestad said. “That means delegation, time management, meeting deadlines.”
“Our role has really diminished in a way, because we ultimately see ourselves as the creative directors of the agency,” O’Connor said. “We’re just overseeing the whole thing. We want to give them the most power possible.”
According to official rules dictated by the Martin Agency, teams can deliver their campaign in the form of one 2-minute video and/or up to eight images. The client is IntelliSoft, a video game publisher facing public backlash after a real-life shooting mirrored specific elements of their game “Semper Fi.”
“Your assignment is to respond to the community’s outrage and grief without accepting responsibility, excusing the violence, or apologizing,” reads the creative brief sent to the BYU and CU students.
CU’s campaign, titled “21 Game Salute,” is a 1-minute ceasefire within 21 popular first-person shooter games. Despite fictional circumstances, the “in-game memorial” is a reflection of actual controversy faced by the video game community, said James Collingwood, a student in Brynestad and O’Connor’s class.
“There’s always a connection between the virtual world and reality,” Collingwood said. “Our campaign is meant to spark a very real conversation.”
The hush-hush nature of the last few days means that CU has no idea what BYU has created, or when the judges will make their decision. After the videos and images have been finalized and sent off to the Martin Agency, the students will have their first chance to decompress since Wednesday.
“I’m probably going to take a nap,” said CU’s Chelsea Anderson. “And hopefully the class can celebrate a little bit as we wait it out.”
The winning school will have bragging rights, but stocked portfolios will be the defining reward for students trying to get into the hyper-competitive advertising industry, said Brynestad and O’Connor.
“Winning is always great, but we saw this as an opportunity to get on the radar of the national advertising scene,” Brynestad said. “In a perfect world, we want our students to graduate from here and go straight to jobs.”
“A lot of the reason we even took on the challenge was to give our kids a leg up and make sure they have the best experience going forward,” O’Connor said.
BYU’s renowned program has produced all-star alumni, but Brynestad and O’Connor, who both graduated from CU in 2008, have been teaching classes in recent semesters that have “ridiculous talent,” Collingwood said — and they have geography on their side.
Boulder is home to several established, successful agencies, including TDA and Crispin Porter + Bogusky. With clients like Patagonia, L.L. Bean and Chipotle (TDA) and Microsoft Windows, Dominos and Burger King (CP+B), Boulder’s advertising environment inspired the CU students during the Adfight process.
“Boulder is such a creative community, and we have those resources available to us year-round,” Anderson said, noting that CU ad students are able to go to working professionals for advice and feedback on their assignments.
The Adfight aside, CU’s program as a whole benefits from location, O’Connor said. “We have great proximity and exposure to the agency scene here.”
There’s a lot at stake for both universities: BYU instigated the Adfight and has since produced vast amounts of content promoting themselves. CU is riding the wave of Boulder’s growing prominence, but is not recognized as a top program.
“This would bring us to the national scale, which would be huge,” said CU’s Alex Pelligrini. “This is the first explicit comparison between two advertising programs, and ours is gaining traction.”
Contact CU Independent Editor-in-Chief Annie Melton at firstname.lastname@example.org.