I saw this University of Phoenix commercial air during the morning news and was mesmerized by its thoughtful rendition of the Wizard of Oz’s “If I Only had a Brain.” I was instantly taken by how its advertising agency, 180LA, took a popular sentimental song and gave it a smart twist to appeal to its audience. Personally, I’ve found writing lyrics for an ad to be one of the hardest assignments I’ve ever taken on. I remember struggling with it for a concept years ago and my results back then to be forced, disjointed, and best suited for an arc shot into the garbage. I have to give props to copywriter Josh Hacohen and We Are Walker’s composer/vocalist Roarke.
The lyrics for this ad simply nailed it.
“So my kids don’t have to forage.
Got two jobs to pay a mortgage.
And I’ve also got a brain.
Talk is cheap.
I’ll be working while you sleep.
Still don’t think I’ve not got a brain?
You can try.
I’ll do it faster.
I was born a multitasker.
I was raised against the grain.
I took two bullets in the chest.
Got three kids.
I never rest.
And I’ve also got a brain.
You think a resume is enough?
Well step up when things get tough.
Don’t you want that kind of brain?
A degree is a degree.
You’re going to want someone like me.
But only if you have a brain.”
The lyrics, delivered with a soothing, alternative style were paired with a multitude of thoughtful vignettes by 180LA’s creative team, The Corner Shop’s production, Shane Casting, Cut and Run’s editing, Lime Studio’s recording, and We Are Walker’s music. Here’s what we see:
1.) The hectic chaos of a young family in their home and mom preparing for the day ahead, We see her again, walking down the hall, waking her kids before going to her medical job with an exhausted, yet victorious look that says, “Yes, I’m getting it all done.”
2.) The boss closing the door gruffly, a POV of rejection.
And imagine how it feels when you don’t have the right credentials for a job.
3.) A farmer studying a textbook, sitting on his tractor at dawn.
4.) A waitress studying in the corner of a crowded restaurant kitchen, while a chef shimmies past her. She gives a coy look to the camera as if to say, “Yes, I’m doing this.”
5.) A young mother is nursing her baby in a diner while studying her laptop.
6.) Cut to another farmer, surrounded by other workers, riding in a flatbed truck and making notes in a workbook.
7.) Then an older veteran boxing with a long scar down his chest, throwing punches into a punching bag.
8.) A woman reading on a bus while she’s standing and bracing herself, holding a handle. She looks up and shows her determination.
9.) And then a young man in a suit carrying his mother from the bathroom to her wheelchair before he heads out the door. He looks concerned, but stoic. (How often do we ever see the real-world role of caretakers shown in commercials?)
10.) A woman walking down the street at night with her books.
11.) It all culminates with the scene of another woman studying in the library with her laptop and highlighting passages in her book. A security guard walks up behind her to tell her the library is closing. He’s turned off most of the lights. She waves her hand up as if to say, “One more minute.” The lights go out and the tagline fades in “We Rise.”
It’s an incredible challenge to turn advertising ideas into polished executions. It’s a rare thing to see 11 vignettes not only fit, but flow well in a 60-second spot. All of these scenes were staged with a cinematic quality and beautifully casted. I’m willing to wager that every single one of them was inspired by market research – University of Phoenix students and alumni.
This is great storytelling. It shows people in the midst of their humble beginnings and their chaotic schedules finding time to pursue their dreams. It turns students into heroes for bettering their lives and those of their families. It romanticizes their tenacity and inspires others to do the same.
And how about that tagline? “We Rise.” It gives all of those on the sidelines, passively or persistently thinking about their prospects of college, encouragement to tap into their inner strength and enroll. It’s a nudge. It says you’ll be part of a community that will help you grow into the person you want to become.
What about you? Do you like commercials with lyrics that have been written for a product or service? Have you ever tried writing lyrics for any of your clients?
This is the ad that I think deserves a “Creative High Five” this week. I am in no way affiliated with the University of Phoenix or its ad agency 180LA. I’m just a huge fan of creative advertising. You may learn more about me and my work by perusing the rest of my site. You can read more about this spot and the team who worked on it here. If you like this post, please share it with your followers with one of the buttons at the top of this post. It would be greatly appreciated.