Brandcenter alumni again serve up memorable moments in Super Bowl XLVIII

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Making it to the Super Bowl marks the pinnacle of a career. While that’s certainly true for the athletes on the field, it’s equally significant for the behind-the-scenes professionals who create the much-awaited entertainment that plays between the action during the big game.

We are, of course, talking about the advertising creatives who develop the most inventive and entertaining commercials seen on television all year.

Virginia Commonwealth University is no stranger to this elite branding effort. This year, 10 alumni of the VCU Brandcenter, the university’s marketing communications and advertising graduate program, had a hand in commercials that ran during the Super Bowl.

Having his first Super Bowl commercial was “amazing” for Mike Wilson, who graduated from the Brandcenter’s art direction track in 2011 before joining David & Goliath in Los Angeles.

“I’m still not sure it’s completely sunk in yet,” Wilson said. “I feel blessed to be given this opportunity so early in my career and to be surrounded by such an amazingly talented group of people to learn from.”

Wilson served as art director for D&G’s Kia spot, which featured the “Matrix” trilogy’s Morpheus offering an unsuspecting couple a choice.

They could take the blue key and return to the world they know. Or, they could choose the red key and never look at luxury the same again.

“We were tasked with launching [Kia’s] new flagship sedan, the K900, and changing people’s perceptions of what luxury actually meant,” Wilson said. Kris Kennedy, who graduated in 2009 in the copywriting track, works with Cramer-Krasselt in Chicago.

He was part of the four-person team that developed the Heinz spot, “Happy and You Know It.”

This was Kennedy’s first Super Bowl ad as well, and Kennedy describes himself as appropriately excited about it.

“It's a cool feeling, sure,” he said. “But there is a ton of pressure associated with such a high-profile assignment.”

Still, Kennedy felt more than prepared for the task, after surviving the Brandcenter.

“The Brandcenter prepares everyone who passes through its doors by being uncompromising,” Kennedy said. “The teachers are demanding. Only greatness is accepted. Then one day, you hit the 60-week mark. And you wonder how you survived what is arguably one of the hardest experiences you'll ever have in the industry.

“I'm five years removed now. And I'm just so impressed with all of my classmates who survived the Brandcenter pressure cooker with me. Everyone is doing great in the industry. Really, really great. Pressure turned coal into diamonds. And my classmates are some of the best diamonds in the industry. It's really cool.”

Lauren Geisler describes the Brandcenter as an advertising boot camp.

“It really pushes you to get ready for a demanding, but fun career and if you survive you will be able to handle whatever the industry throws at you,” she said.

Geisler worked as art director on a regional spot for U.S. Cellular featuring a nephew who comes into the store with his uncle to purchase a phone under the provider’s current promotion. There is some confusion between the employee and customer because the uncle’s name is Sam.

While developing the ad, Geisler didn’t feel the same pressure as some of her former classmates, as the spot originally was not briefed for the Super Bowl.

“One of the several ideas we came up with was using Uncle Sam, which the client loved and bought,” she said. “Our client just ended up buying the media for it to run in our selected markets during the game.”

One thing Geisler has in common with her fellow Brandcenter alumni is that they are all experienced in working in the grueling world of advertising.

“The Brandcenter was absolutely vital in preparing me for this career path,” Wilson said. “Because the school itself runs like an agency, I was able to hit the ground running when I graduated. I use skill sets every single day that were instilled in me from the program.”

Brandcenter alumni works during the 2014 Super Bowl

Heinz Ketchup
Kristopher Kennedy (copywriting, 2009), copywriter at Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago

Karen Land Short (art direction, 2008), copywriter at Droga5, NYC

Jillian Dresser (art direction, 2008), art director at Silver + Partners, NYC
Howard Finkelstein (copywriting, 2005), creative director at Silver + Partners, NYC
Casey Rand (copywriting, 2008), copywriter at Droga5, NYC (worked on spot while at Silver + Partners, NYC)

Mike Wilson (art direction, 2011), art director at David & Goliath, LA

US Cellular (running in spot markets)
Lauren Geisler (art direction, 2010), art director at Mullen, Boston

WeatherTech floor mats for cars
Tom Wilson (copywriting, 1998), creative director at JWT, Atlanta (worked on spot as a freelancer)

Joseph Quattrone (creative brand management, 2008), group account director/social media strategist at GroupM / M80, NYC

Marika Wiggan (communications strategy, 2010), brand strategist at Argonaut, San Francisco

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