Pro-quality ad campaigns flowing out of BYU’s AdLab

Published: Monday, July 12 2010 1:00 a.m. MDT

A NikeiD ad created by the BYU AdLab is now plastered around the world. Emblazoned on the front athlete's legs is: "Before you wear the colors, you have to be a team."


PROVO — "Before you wear the colors, you have to be a team."

"Finally something we can all drink to."

"I am my anti-drug."

These slogans, born in the creative think tank of the BYU AdLab, have grown to occupy TV screens, websites, magazine pages and radio waves — as polished as any professional ad campaign.

Since 2003 the AdLab, tucked away in the Brimhall Building on the south end of BYU's campus, has cranked out hundreds of campaigns and cream-of-the-crop advertisers, thanks to hands-on experience with real clients and genuine assignments.

The Ad Council recently released a new Smokey Bear campaign, featuring an educational DVD created entirely by BYU AdLab students.

"It's awesome for your homework to turn into national, viewable material," said AdLab director Jeff Sheets.

The Smokey Bear DVD will be sent to schools nationwide to teach kindergartners, first- and second-graders about preventing wildfires.

"You really can't tell that it's student work," said Priscilla Natkins, executive vice president, director of client services and overseer of the Ad Council's PSA campaigns. "They have strategic smarts, creative smarts, technical smarts; they're a very impressive group. BYU delivers time and time again."

Before the AdLab, BYU advertising students worked on "case studies" — hypothetical campaigns that ended when the semester did.

That wasn't good enough for Sheets. Ditto for advertising professor Doug McKinlay, who had been asked to start a creative track in BYU's advertising program.

"My thought was, this is really an applied discipline, so we need a place (to practice)," McKinlay said.

His "student-run advertising agency" pitch didn't go over well, he said. But when he called it an "advanced advertising lab," people started listening.

After all, it wasn't too heretical an addition in the Department of Communications where students work in the Daily Universe, Daily News at Noon and Bradley Public Relations labs, developing journalism and public relations skills.

"We've not found anywhere else that has lab operations like BYU does on the scale that we do," said Ed Adams, associate dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communications. "BYU is pioneering a lot of ground with these labs that are unprecedented in undergraduate education."

By 2005, the AdLab was fully operational, offering extracurricular, hands-on experience through designing, managing and pitching actual campaigns in conjunction with professional agencies.

"It's where everything comes together," said senior Sara Martinez, account executive. "You learn it in class, but here you get to practice what you learned."

And they practice with big names: Doritos, Haagen Dazs and Nike.

A campaign for NikeiD features the catchy slogan written on arms and legs of athletes: "Before you wear the colors, you have to be a team."

Now the Wieden+Kennedy and BYU AdLab-designed campaign is plastered around the world, backed by millions of Nike dollars.

In the nonprofit realm, UNICEF tapped the AdLab to create a Utah-specific campaign for its larger Tap Project, which raises money to provide clean water for children around the world.

Students played off Utah's unique culture with the slogan: "Finally something we can all drink to."

Work for organizations such as UNICEF and the Office of National Drug Control and Policy is done gratis, but commercial clients are charged based on the size and scope of the project, with all money going back into the self-funding AdLab.

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