Penn creates new TV Spots

Penn has developed three new TV spots that highlight the University’s long tradition of ingenuity and entrepreneurship.

The 30-second spots focus on three exceptional alumni—John Heisman, Andrea Mitchell and John Legend—who recognize how Penn inspired them to innovate and find success in their chosen fields of football, journalism and music.

The ads were produced in collaboration with Philadelphia-based Red Tettemer, the advertising agency behind Penn Health’s recent “We are Medicine” branding campaign. For the TV spots, says Gauri Kapoor, group account director at Red Tettemer, “We wanted to reinforce the University of Pennsylvania’s status as a premier educational institution in the world and also to reinforce its Ivy League status, to make it top of mind by showcasing the accomplishments of its alumni as proof of the University’s credentials.”

As Kapoor and her team looked over the roster of notable Penn alumni, one trait kept emerging. “We realized it was the ingenuity of the alumni that’s at its core,” she says, “starting with the University’s founder, Ben Franklin, who epitomized ingenuity.” Narrowing down the list to just three outstanding Penn graduates proved a challenge. “We thought having a really good mix made sense,” says Kapoor, “with John Legend, who’s part of the younger generation in the entertainment industry and Andrea Mitchell with her fame as a journalist and her accomplishments, and we thought having a sporting legend made sense since these spots are likely to be aired at sporting tournaments. Also, most of these alums are sort of in some way household names.”

According to Lori Doyle, vice president of University Communications, one of the goals of the spots was to help identify Penn as an Ivy League school. “Since there’s confusion between Penn and Penn State, we wanted to make sure they had an Ivy League feel,” she says.
For the John Heisman spot, the film crew visited Franklin Field. “Imagine the game of football,” intones the voiceover, “without the forward pass. It’s not a pretty picture. Three yards and a cloud of dust ... No Hail Mary’s. No ‘The Catch.’ Imagine if John Heisman never found the inspiration to turn football, into football.”

In the Andrea Mitchell spot, the camera slowly sweeps across the richly ornamented terracotta façade of the Fisher Fine Arts Library. A voiceover by the chief foreign correspondent for NBC News tells viewers: “Before I covered the White House. ... Before I confronted Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir about the genocide in Darfur. Before all of that I covered Chaucer, Nabokov and Dostoevsky. My Ivy League degree and inspiration came from the University of Pennsylvania.”

Initially, Mitchell was to have done the voiceovers for all three spots, says Doyle, but it soon became clear that each ad needed its own voice. A professional voiceover artist was hired for the Heisman spot and staff went to work trying to track down John Legend. Finally, Leah Popowich, associate director in the President’s Center, came to the rescue. She was a student at Penn when he graduated in 1999—his name was then John Stephens—and was able to contact him through a mutual friend. Chaz Howard, who is now Penn’s associate chaplain, was at Penn with Legend, and he remembers how, “John was a legend long before we graduated from Penn… From my first year here, John was among those upperclassmen that looked out for the younger cats like me… On a campus full of talented singers and artists, John stood out.” Legend ended up recording his voiceover in a studio in Miami. “It came together at the last minute, and it’s most people’s favorite spot,” says Doyle.

Legend’s spot begins with a gorgeous tracking shot of the collegiate Gothic buildings of the Quad overlaid with the low, mellifluous voice of the Grammy-winning recording artist: “Before I worked with Kanye West. Before I performed with Stevie Wonder. Way, way before my solo album and the Grammy for best new artist. Before all of that this was my studio.”
If Penn makes it to the NCAA finals this spring, look for the ads to air on CBS during gametime. “This is like a gift to us,” says Doyle, since the network is donating airtime free of charge. “We’re really glad we’re doing this.” Meanwhile, you can see the ads at www.upenn.edu/pennnews/.

Originally published March 15, 2007.

Originally published on March 15, 2007