For most college students, Super Bowl Sunday means football, food and beer. But for a certain group of University of South Carolina students, it means commercials.
Sixty USC undergrads go to class on Tuesdays and Thursdays not to study Calculus or History, but to study Super Bowl commercials.
“It’s really fun because you get to see the top commercials and what makes those successful, as well as what makes the other commercials unsuccessful and what they can do better,” said USC junior Radiance Basden.
But these aren’t ordinary ads. For a spot in this year's Super Bowl, companies are paying more than $3 million. And it doesn’t stop there … then comes the talent. Rapper Eminem was paid $1 million to be remade into a claymation figure for a Lipton commercial. It is also rumored that Justin Bieber and Ozzy Osbourne will also appear in ads, no doubt for a hefty fee.
USC is the first college to offer a course of this nature, studying solely the trends and creative tactics found in Super Bowl advertising.
“Throughout the semester, the students learn about the cultural influences of the commercials, whether it’s things from pop culture, things from history or things that will influence the big idea,” said Prof. Bonnie Drewniany.
Drewniany has been teaching the course for eight years. The course was originally only available for honors students, but the high demand for students to enroll in the class forced USC to make it available to all students, even outside of the College of Journalism and Communications.
“This was the first class I signed up for when I signed up for classes,” said USC Senior Alex Stroman. “I’ve just always heard since freshman year about this really cool class that looks at Super Bowl ads. So I thought it would be a fun class to take in my senior year… I know it fills up very quickly whenever you can get into it at Carolina because it’s such a unique class.”
On Super Bowl Sunday, the students in the class become legitimate pollsters. They gather in a media lab with professional statisticians on hand and wait for the coveted commercial breaks. They rank each ad electronically based on likability, persuasiveness and brand identity. By the end of the evening, they are able to determine which ad was the most successful.
“In many cases it’s more legitimate than many of the other polls because most polls just look at likability. So you may like a spot… it may make you laugh it may make you cry, but it may not make you buy. We also look at brand identity and persuasiveness, so when you look at all three together, it’s a better analytical tool than some of the other polls.”
After determining the winning ad, the students invite the ad producers to receive their official “Cocky Award” – an award given to the winning company each year for their outstanding Super Bowl commercial. The name comes from the school’s precious mascot, the Gamecock. Previous recipients have included Doritos, Staples, and of course, Budweiser.
“The Budweiser ads are really funny,” said Basden.
The winning company will come and speak to the students about the process of putting together the ad: the creative minds, technology, and innovation it takes to execute a Super Bowl ad.
“It’s a really great opportunity for us as students about to enter the real world to learn from the best and talk to the best,” said Stroman. Let the games begin.