Y&R Balances NCAA’s Student-Athlete Act

SAN FRANCISCO Pointing out that most college athletes don’t end up as millionaire superstars in professional sports, a new branding campaign from the National Collegiate Athletic Association plays on the academic as well as athletic part of its mission.

“Each time we step on the floor, class is in session,” says former USC basketball player Tyler Murphy, in the newest television commercial. “There are 360,000 NCAA student athletes, and each one of us is getting two educations.”

The spot will begin airing nationally during the NCAA basketball tournament on CBS and ESPN this week. It is one in a series of three black-and-white commercials and four print pieces, all featuring a split screen, created by WPP’s Young & Rubicam in San Francisco following branding work by WPP’s Landor Associates.

“We wanted to convey bringing the balance back into effect. Showing the academic side as well as the athletic side of the NCAA,” said Y&R group creative director Tom Peck.

The branding research showed that the public misunderstood the NCAA, viewing it as an enforcement organization primarily concerned with basketball, said Dennis Cryder, NCAA vice president of branding, broadcasting and promotions. “The public really did not know what the NCAA was all about. We wanted to communicate that we are about the student athlete who is working and also learning in the college community.”

The advertisements also aim to convey that the vast majority of student athletes served by the NCAA do not go on to professional sports, said Peck. This is the first branding campaign in the NCAA’s history.

The ads all feature former student athletes, participating in the sports they played in college. The other commercials include a shot putter and a swimmer. The campaign could not feature current players because the NCAA does not allow student athletes to be reimbursed for their athletic endeavors. The former athletes received standard Screen Actors Guild wages for their commercial work.