January 1, 1998

Schools Offer Different Looks To TV Viewers

Dan Shine Detroit Free Press

While Washington State University and the University of Michigan battle on the field, the two schools will use the Rose Bowl telecast to peddle their institutions to prospective students.

If viewers don’t take a bathroom break or get a snack during commercials, they’ll see ads as different as Ann Arbor, Mich. and Pullman: electric guitars and violins, and odd-angled camera shots and soft-focus images.

Washington State will play up its campus with an ad that features rock music, a student with a pierced eyebrow, another sitting on a red couch in a wheat field, and a group of students around a half-eaten pizza flipping index cards in the air.

By contrast, the University of Michigan’s spot is a poem set to orchestral music with images of a prospective student silhouetted against a barn, another strolling past her home’s white picket fence, and a packed station wagon set against rolling green fields.

If WSU is MTV, UM is A&E.;

“We had some people who said to us that these university spots tend to sound all the same,” said Barbara Petura, assistant vice president for university relations at Washington State. “Here’s the professor, here’s the test tube and ivy-covered walls. We wanted something that was fun and humorous that appeals to teens and appeals to parents and alumni.”

Petura said her school’s ad is inspired by famous alum Gary Larson, creator of the offbeat comic strip the Far Side.

Michigan’s ad also calls on a well-known grad - CBS newsman Mike Wallace - to recite a poem about the excitement and emotion of heading off to college. Another famous alum, actor James Earl Jones, narrated the same ad last season.

Each school gets 60 seconds to air its ad. WSU’s ad is relatively new; Michigan’s 30-second spot is two years old. A second half-minute ad will be dusted off to fill out the 60 seconds.

Lisa Baker, Michigan’s associate vice president for university relations, said, “It’s awfully hard to convey much in a minute, but we’d like to remind people of the feeling of going off to college, the sensation of the acceptance letter and the emotions of packing your bags,” she said.

Washington State’s ad features students and faculty speaking about the college experience, including athletics and term papers, sleeping through classes, biology labs with “real live dead bodies” and possible romance at the laundromat.

“We know we have to cut through the blah blah blah and use a sense of humor and a different kind of approach,” WSU’s Petura said. “Hopefully people won’t turn away or head into the kitchen for something to eat.”

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