Top Nine University Broadcast Commercials

If you’re ad is similar to everyone else’s, nobody is going to watch it.

A television commercial has to capture your attention. If it doesn’t accomplish this primary objective then nothing else really matters. Once it has your attention it then has to communicate something of value to the viewer. The best way to do this is by making an emotional connection with the viewer.

Many of the university broadcast commercials you’ll see are aired during televised college sports events because the school has received either free or very inexpensive air time during that broadcast. Unfortunately, if the broadcast air time has little, or no apparent value (cheap or free), then it’s unlikely that the institution will spend a lot of effort on the commercial to be aired. This is the reason that the majority of college broadcast commercials are average, at best.

The other reason that university broadcast commercials all look the same (i.e., if you put a different school logo at the end of the video it likely wouldn’t make any difference) is that universities are generally very conservative and, as such, are hesitant to deviate from the norm. It takes a brave university president to introduce genuinely new ideas to a centuries old institution/business.

Of all the industries we’ve looked at, university broadcast ads vary the least from the mean. They all generally look the same.

University Broadcast Commercials
We’re considering 15, 30 and 60 seconds advertisements that air on network television .

Given that there are thousands of schools and the fact that some of these schools are billion dollar enterprises, you’d think that they would all be trying very hard to differentiate themselves from each other. You’d be wrong.

There is some interesting work being done by universities and the reach of broadcast television is still a very powerful marketing medium. We’re going to start to see more targeted faculty, initiative and event based promotions replacing the more general ‘We Are [name of school]’ type of advertising.

I also believe that non-traditional educational organizations (like the second video in our list below) will be the ones to shake up a very traditional and risk-averse industry.

Here are our Top Ten University Broadcast Television Commercials:

Brand: Western Sydney University  {Perth, Australia}
Production Company: FINCH, WE.Collective and VCD

This video sets the bar very high for university commercials.

  • The video tells Deng Adut’s story – a former Sudanese child soldier who came to Australia at 14 as a refugee, taught himself English and went on to receive a law degree from Western Sydney University.
  • This video is powerful, it’s emotive and it’s inspiring – not your normal university broadcast commercial fare.
  • The video speaks to our humanity, the power of helping those in need and the strength of human spirit – that we can overcome the most incredible odds and ultimately succeed. Thank you Australia and thank you Western Sydney University. It’s stories like these that need to be told.
  • I can’t think of a better message and story to associate your school with.

Brand: Columbia University, {New York, USA}
Creative Agency: Outside the Frame

Tell a story.

  • This TV spot called “A Doubled Magic” was based on the words of Pulitzer Prize-winning Columbia alumnus Herman Wouk with voice-over by actor and alumnus Brian Dennehy.
  • The story telling approach is a good one. Wouk speaks highly of his life and times at Columbia. No one really believes what you say about yourself, but they will believe what others say about you. Even more so if that person is a Pulitzer winning author.
  • The use of time lapse and hyper lapse clips lend a vital energy and sense of purpose to the video.
  • Ample reminders of the fact that Columbia lies at the heart of one of the most exciting and vibrant cities in the world is also a good idea.

Brand: Oregon State University,  {Eugene, Oregon, US}
Production Company: Spectrecom Films

What do you stand for? The new direction for all university commercials.

  • This video by Oregon State has solid production values and communicates something of genuine value – it tells you what the university cares about and what they are doing. Both of these are critical decision criteria that prospective students also care about. Sure, the team mascot and campus social life is important… but giving prospective students a reason to care and believe – that’s a really good idea.
  • “We seek to understand the ocean.” Not everyone plans on going into oceanography but everyone watching this video now understands that the university is passionate about something vital to our existence. One passionate idea, well delivered, can have a tremendous influence on an individual.
  • The time remapping editing technique adds a bit of funk to each shot and the content shown in each shot helps demonstrate the range of activities the university is involved in.

Brand: University of Michigan {Ann Arbor Michigan, USA}
Production Company: Unkown 

Top Notch Production values in this video.

  • This video has the same basic structure as about a third of all university ads: Action clips, supported by music and narration. This one is just better than most.
  • The music is strong – it builds nicely as the commercial plays out, the writing is interesting – not too cliche and not to sappy, and the imagery is really good. The last slow motion clip of the gymnast doing a slow motion back flip in the library was inspired.
  • So here’s the problem. If everyone else does this same type of commercial and your promo isn’t as good as everyone else’s, then doesn’t thist suggest that your program probably isn’t as good either?
  • You either do this style (let’s call it collegiate commercial type 1) really well or you should try something else.
  • At least the tagline in this video is also a call to action: ‘Come to Michigan.’ Videos based on taglines are hard to do well, mostly because the tagline sounds like it was the winning entry in a tagline contest.

Brand: University of Moncton {Moncton New Brunswick, Canada}
Production Company: Unknown 

Know your audience and then find a way to get their attention.

  • This ad is more beer commercial than university recruiting promotion. Does it merit mention here? Yes, it does because it was designed to accomplish a goal – to raise awareness of the University and get more people to apply. The school reported a 22% increase in applications and are on record stating that they feel a good portion of this increase in applications was attributable to this ad.
  • Should all universities start developing beer commercials. No, not all of them. This wouldn’t work at, say… Harvard. But for a small Canadian University trying to get the attention of prospective students, it worked. Like every other industry, education isn’t a level playing field so schools have to do what they have to do to get attention.
  • This video was effective because it was different – it stood out. That’s what marketing is supposed to do.
  • Will we see more college beer commercials in the future? This video worked so, yes, most likely we’ll see ore of these.
  • For all the media fuss this promotion generated (which is a good thing…) with the exception of a 2 second passionate kiss (included as a french pun on the word ‘langue’ which represents the words tongue and language…) this video is no different than the majority of high energy university promotions.

Brand: Brightwood College {Birmingham Alabama, US}
Production Company: Unknown

Powerful… check. Inspiring… check. Uplifting… check.

  • Motivation speaker Les Brown was called upon in this video to bring the house down. What a great read.
  • “There’s greatness in you” is the most powerful message you can communicate to anyone – especially someone on the cusp of making one of the most important decisions of their lives.
  • The music builds nicely and the shots used were very strong.
  • Is this video over the top? Perhaps, but anything less would not have delivered with the same conviction.

Brand: Montana State University {Bozeman, Montana, US}
Production Company: Unknown

A visually inspiring success story.

  • Student success stories are always a rich vein to mine. In this video, a Montana State alumnus tells us about his successful career as a filmmaker and how MSU was instrumental in his success.
  • The advantage of your success story being about a film is that you’ll likely have some great reference video to pull from. Indeed they do. The b-roll footage accompanying the narrator’s story is impressive.
  • The ‘great things can happen’ theme never gets old. Showing inspiring things done by alumni is one of the easiest, smartest and best ways to promote your university. The better the story (both visually and orally) the more impact your promotion will have.
  • The epic sound track didn’t hurt either…

Brand: Ferris State University {Big Rapids, Michigan, USA}
Production Company: McCann Melbourne

Being informative almost seems like a last option. It shouldn’t.

  • Ferris is a mid-sized school in the midwest. It can’t compete on an equal footing with Ivy league schools, nor should it try. What it can do is highlight clearly the specific advantages of attending Ferris.
  • My two takeaways from this promo were a 16-1 student to faculty ratio and 70% of students have internships in their programs. 70%! – that’s really impressive …and that’s how you compete with the ‘bigs’.
  • Ferris could have gone the inspirational route but that’s a tough way to differentiate yourself, even for the biggest programs with the biggest budgets.
  • This video presentation is lively and professional. Sometimes a few good facts is all it takes.

Brand: Temple University, Philadelphia, US}
Production Company: Unknown

Bring it on…

  • I had to include at least one of this style of video. “Temple Made,” baby! Oh ya!
  • This is definitely one of the better standard university hype videos that could actually be any university if you changed the logo and name out with another university… type of videos…
  • Love the dub step sound track – it really makes the video. It’s an original piece by composer, Darrin Wiener with World Gang Music, created specifically for the commercial.
  • Lots of quick action shots and cool looking people doing cool stuff.
  • Wicked!
Jimm Fox


Jimm has been working in video and marketing for the last 25 years agency side, client side and in video production.

  1. I’m looking for the university that graduates people from all over the country. They have traveled to places to actually have a graduation ceremony for one graduate.

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