Brandcenter alumni dominate Super Bowl 50

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Last night, Johnny Roelofs, a 2013 graduate of the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter, felt like a proud papa when the Audi commercial he helped conceive aired during the Super Bowl.

“The excitement around knowing that almost every person I know will [have seen] the baby that I started working on eight months ago is unmatched,” said Roelofs, a senior strategist at Venables Bell & Partners. “There aren’t many professions where your work is seen by so many people on such a big stage at the same time, and it’s a privilege to be given that opportunity.”

This year, VCU Brandcenter graduates worked on 13 TV spots that aired during the Super Bowl. Twenty different alumni played a role in those ads.

Roelofs’ Audi spot promoting its new R8 V10 Plus vehicle points out that man's greatest accomplishments and improvements come from moments of choosing risk. Putting a man on the moon was a risky decision, Roelofs said, but it led to personal computers, laser surgery and countless other technologies we use today.

“The R8 is Audi’s top car and represents a series of great leaps forward in design and engineering,” he said. “But many of those leaps forward were driven by risky decisions that went against the ‘normal’ way of doing things in luxury automotive. It was those decisions that led to our best-engineered car yet. ... We wanted to illustrate how the best advancements come from moments of risk and show how that mindset lives in the car itself.”

Brandcenter alumna Morgan Aceino helped develop Omelet’s ad celebrating 20 years of Pokémon in the brand’s first-ever Super Bowl spot. The Omelet team infused the spot with the energy and finesse needed to properly honor the Pokémon empire. Since the story had to both speak to the Trainers – the people who catch, train, care for, and battle with Pokémon – who have been with the franchise for 20 years and to spark the imagination of the next generation, the team spent extra time speaking to people from both camps.

Hearing about the Trainers’ relationship with Pokémon took the team's interest to the next level, Aceino said. There were so many good stories from, “I pooped my pants once because I couldn't stop playing” to “It was the first time I had any control in life. A lot of power for a 7-year-old.”

“The creative crew did a fantastic job winking to the Trainers while inspiring awe with the non-Trainers amongst us,” she said.

More than 30 Brandcenter graduates have worked on Super Bowl ads in the past four years alone. This year’s crop says they owe a lot to the Brandcenter.

The demanding nature of the Brandcenter is critical to its grads’ success, said Marisa Perazzelli, who worked on Goodby Silverstein’s Marmot ad. She often speaks of the rigor of the curriculum and the autonomy the teaching staff gives the students. “I encourage all students to dig in, ask questions, read everything they tell you to read,” she said. “That's how you get to big things.”

Even though one professor told Aceino that she was not cut out for the industry, she just used that as incentive to prove him wrong.

“[The Brandcenter] chewed me up and spit me out a much better, more interesting — but slightly more insane — human,” Aceino said. “It showed me that the work can always be better, smarter.”

One thing people don’t realize about advertising is that it’s a business of rejection, Roelofs said. For every script that airs, 100 more are killed. And when it comes to the Super Bowl, that number only increases. Yet, times such as last night make all the rejection worth it.

“The moment that spot airs is unlike any other,” he said. “Knowing that your team was able to build something great for your clients, and that almost everyone in America will see the result of your team’s labor — you can’t beat that.”

Alumni with Super Bowl spots this year

 1. Client: Marmot
Agency: Goodby Silverstein & Partners
Alumni: Kirstie Maryott (strategy, 2013) and Marisa Perazzelli (strategy, 2015)

2. Client: Pokémon
Agency: Omelet LA
Alumni: Morgan Welch Aceino (creative brand management, 2011), Jas Gill (CBM, 2012) and Blakely Jones (copywriting, 2014)

3.) Client: Audi
Agency: VB+P
Alumni: Dylan Phillips (strategy, 2015) and Johnny Roelofs (strategy, 2013)

4.) Client: Jack in the Box (regional)
Agency: David and Goliath
Alumnus: Steve Yee (art direction, 2000)

5.) Client: PayPal
Agency: CP+B
Alumnus: Mike Wilson (art direction, 2011)

6.) Client: Priceline
Agency: BBDO
Alumnus: Tom Naughton (strategy, 2006)

7.) Client: Pantene (regional)
Agency: Grey
Alumna: Lindsey Randolph (strategy, 2004)

8.) Client: Bai (regional)
Agency: Barton F. Graf
Alumni: Richard Langhorne (copywriting, 2011), Zack Madrigal (art direction, 2013) and Nick Kaplan (copywriting, 2008)

9.) Client: TurboTax
Agency: Wieden + Kennedy Portland
Alumnus: Matt Skibiak (copywriting, 2013)

10) Client: Coke
Agency: Wieden + Kennedy Portland
Alumnus: Nate Nowinowski (art direction, 2011)

11) Client: Gatorade
Agency: Chiat LA
Alumnus: Scott Cleveland (copywriting, 2011)

12) Client: Bud Light (with Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen)
Agency: Wieden + Kennedy NYC
Alumnus: Howard Finkelstein (copywriting, 2005) and Stuart Jennings (art direction, 2003)

13) Client: Mountain Dew
Agency: BBDO
Alumnus: Don Marshall Wilhelmi (copywriting, 2004) (He’s also the voice of the puppymonkeybaby.)


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