Texas Wesleyan tackles football with ad

Scott Nishimura snishimura@bizpress.net

Monday Night Football viewers in North Texas will see something new from Texas Wesleyan University during the Cowboys-Redskins game Oct. 27 on ESPN: a 60-second advertising spot before halftime. The Fort Worth university, which for three years has worked to boost awareness among potential applicants with a series of 15-second humorous TV, internet and movie theater spots highlighting its “Smaller. Smarter.” tagline, wants to reinforce that message with a serious component in the new spot.

To see the commercial: txwes.edu/admissions/when-we-say-smaller/

“You’ve been kind of laughing along in a way,” John Veilleux, the university’s vice president of marketing and communications, said in an interview. “There is a more serious side to the message. Education is very real. This is what smaller really means.” The university’s president, Frederick G. Slabach, previewed the spot and several new 15-second ones during a recent Rotary Club of Fort Worth luncheon and Fort Worth Business Hall of Fame induction dinner, but didn’t tell the audience the long commercial would run during the football game. The ad, written by marketing director Darren White, produced by Texas Wesleyan’s video team, and tweaked by the university’s new creative firm, the Addison-based Firehouse Agency, focuses on the student experience, including video of small classes and professors re-arranging schedules to work one-on-one with their charges. “When we say smaller, smarter, it means we know you by name,” the spot says. “It means you can walk through the door any time, any day, and we’ll listen…It means we believe that one moment with one professor can change the course of your life – forever.” Texas Wesleyan has advertised previously on Monday Night Football, where it can find its 14-24 target age group, their parents and the university’s donors in one place. “It’s the kind of commercial you can do when you’ve established your brand for three years,” Slabach said in an interview. “We’ve had three years of funny,” Veilleux said. “We’re going to leverage all of that into this 60-second spot.” The spot cost the university $25,000 and required purchases from more than 15 cable companies in the local market area because of its unusual length, Veilleux said. The spot uses leftover campus footage shot by Firehouse for Texas Wesleyan’s 15-second spots that began running in September for this fall’s application season. The university plans to email a link to the spot to applicants, donors and others, Veilleux said. Texas Wesleyan made the ad buys in early September, but there was no bet on the Cowboys’ performance, Veilleux and White said. (The team was 4-1 heading into an Oct. 12 game against Seattle.) “The Dallas Cowboys weren’t good last year, and viewership went up,” Veilleux said. “The Dallas Cowboys weren’t good last year, and the team’s value went up. People are always going to watch the Cowboys.” Texas Wesleyan will continue to focus its video campaigns on the 15-second spots, Veilleux and White said. “People see 3,500 marketing messages a day,” White said. “If you’re going to take someone’s time, it should be funny, it should be relevant to them, and it should be quick.” Texas Wesleyan’s total paid advertising budget for the new school year is $1 million, which includes $500,000 for broadcast and cable buys in the fall and spring, $200,000 for billboards, as much as $80,000 for movie theaters and $100,000 for digital, Veilleux said. The fall’s 15-second spots begin running in early September, typically two per show as bookends. The short spots – Fort Worth’s Concussion agency (now Pavlov) developed them the first two years of the campaign, and Firehouse took over for the third year, beginning last month – feature attention-grabbing funny scenes. The most popular, one new for this fall that can be viewed on Texas Wesleyan’s YouTube channel, shows a German Shepherd getting stuck in the dog door of his home. “A one-size education doesn’t fit all,” the ad says. “At Texas Wesleyan, we tailor your education to find the perfect path for you.” Firehouse, which stuck to its budget for this fall’s spots by scouring social media and YouTube for existing video it could buy inexpensively, was originally looking for a cat video. “Cat coming through a door, followed by stuck dog,” Tripp Westbrook, Firehouse partner and executive creative director, said in an interview. Firehouse instead found a YouTube video of a Dachshund rushing through a dog door, followed by his larger German Shepherd friend, which got stuck. Firehouse contacted the video’s owner and agreed to buy the video for five years at $1,000 total, Veilleux said. The university’s final spot shows only the German Shepherd. The 124-year-old Texas Wesleyan, which began advertising on a significant level just three years ago after Slabach was inaugurated as president and sought to boost the university’s awareness, shopped its creative around this year to refresh the campaign. Its change to Firehouse featured two subtle shifts in the 15-second spots: an increase in production values on the campus footage, and a move to include the attention-grabbing material earlier. The three years of advertising has paid off in higher awareness and perception, the university says. “Let’s be blunt,” Veilleux said of the original reasons for the drive. “We didn’t have our student population where we needed it. That’s what’s driving our efforts. More students, more quality applications in the door.” Benchmarked against 10 Dallas-Fort Worth institutions, including the University of North Texas, University of Texas at Arlington, Texas Christian University, Tarrant County College and Southern Methodist University, Texas Wesleyan was running in last place on public awareness. At a 1.39 level originally, it’s rocketed up to a 1.83, and its goal is a 2.25, Veilleux said. “That would put me at the median in terms of benchmark institutions,” he said. Perception, low originally, has also increased, he said. “We’re well over halfway to our 2020 goal putting us in the median,” Veilleux said. Even though perception was low, the feedback the university was getting was positive, “professors that care, small atmosphere,” Veilleux said. Domestic applications have doubled in two years, Veilleux said. “By 2020, I want to see that number doubled again,” he said. Applicants’ average test scores and grade point average are also up, he said. Transfer students – a major target of the university – were up more than 7 percent this fall. Texas Wesleyan’s goal is to reach 450 a year by 2020. “We’re now in the neighborhood of 330, so we still do have some work to do,” Veilleux said. Incoming freshman enrollment has grown to 210-215 from 169 three years ago. The 2020 goal: 300. Texas Wesleyan, at 440 students living on campus, is nearing its 2020 goal of 500. “We’re a challenged brand,” Veilleux said. “It’s a big marketplace, and we’re a small school, and we’re making an impact.”