Looking to steer a new brand campaign, Longhorn Network turned to a creative team well-versed in the ways of the University of Texas: six UT graduate and undergraduate advertising students.
The campaign's objectives were rooted in the wont to show that LHN -- ESPN's 20-year, $300 million venture with the school -- understands what it means to be a UT supporter while also demonstrating that fans' unique Texas spirit is part of the service. In this case, it also offered the opportunity to expand the connection LHN has with students and fans by keeping the creative work on campus.
"We know the Longhorn Network brand is in its infancy and that it's going to grow and evolve," said LHN associate director of marketing Jill Husak. "We were looking at a new way to infuse our brand and thought it was great opportunity to work with students."
As such, LHN reached out to advertising department chair Isabella Cunningham and set things in motion during the spring semester, under the tutelage of UT lecturer Ryan Romero.
"Longhorn came to the ad department about keeping it all in the university. The students worked very hard. It was a great experience," said Romero.
Husak said the students were given "a tour of LHN facilities and briefed about our goals for the campaign. It was great to hear six different creative pitches, rather than the typical account management structure from an agency."
Those efforts resulted in four spots (there are 30- and 15- versions) that were shot in early May and will begin airing Monday June 18. Unified under the tagline, "Watch What You Love," the commercials will air on Longhorn Network itself, as well as other ESPN properties.
The students also created another campaign. "It was a tough call, but Longhorn Network picked this one and then [the students] went ahead and blew out these," said Romero, who, citing a non-disclosed agreement, declined to describe the other effort.
In another example of LHN-student partnership , Husak said the campaign's semester-long creation was chronicled by a network production intern, who shot the classes and the students working, and developed a behind-the-scenes documentary
While most of LHN's focus is on athletics, the network also provides vistas of campus life with lectures from the likes of Michael Dell and Mikhail Gorbachev, Q&As with musicians who perform on campus at UT, as well as via vignettes conveying untold academic stories, according to Husak.
Brand-building benefits aside, she said the "Watch What You Love's" attendant commercials - "Little Longhorn," "Fact Check," "Shoot it Out" and "Homesick" - will work "as an outreach for distributors to underscore the passion students, alumni and fans have for UT and Longhorn Network."
LHN has deals with Verizon FiOS, Grande Communications and a number of small Texas distributors, but has yet to score carriage pacts with Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Charter, Suddenlink and DirecTV.
"Programs like this, where we are able to directly connect with the students and provide real-world learning opportunities, demonstrate the value Longhorn Network brings to the community," said an ESPN spokesman. "We continue to have conversations with our distribution partners in order to provide more fans access to the hundreds of hours of cultural and sports programming offered by the network.
As for the spots themselves, "Little Longhorn," featuring a father telling his young daughter a bed time story about Vince Young leading UT to college football's national title over USC in 2006, will be the first out of the chute.
"Everybody has a soft spot for 'Little Longhorn, ' " said Romero, who worked with the students as the de facto creative director. "It's the one that changed the most during the shooting, we think to the better."
For Romero, who received his graduate degree at UT and lived in Austin for several years, before relocating to Seattle and Dallas and then returning to the land of Longhorns, "Homesick" is poignant.
"I looked out at the Space Needle for a while," he explained. "The tower is certainly a landmark that a lot of people can relate to."
"Homesick" features a young man working in a Manhattan at night who gains comfort by obscuring his office view of the Empire State Building with a photo of the landmark on-campus University of Texas Tower.
In "Fact Check," a man, reminding his sweetheart that they first kissed with him wearing a UT T-shirt, fumbles a romantic opportunity when she points out that he got his yardage count wrong in trying to celebrate a certain Texas football milestone.
"I think there are many couple like that. Women are diehard sports fans too," said Husak, herself a UT graduate.
"Shoot For It" provides another take on shirts and skins. "This one is what UT fans do. They are deeply passionate about their school," Husak said.
After "Little Longhorn" launches, Husak said "Shoot For It" will screen second, followed by "Homesick" and "Fact Check."
"They will roll out week by week, then throughout the summer until the kickoff of football season," said Husak, who noted that if LHN had its own internal agency, she would have hired the students on the spot.
You can check out Kyle Leavitt, Johnathan Wynn, Jennifer Bankston, Hannah Puckett, Kate Griffiths and Cody Tidmore on the job and some of their handiwork at the following links:
"Behind the Scenes"