Professor has super passion for teaching
by Peggy Binette, email@example.com; 803-777-5400
It was the Volkswagen ad urging Americans to fall in love with a bug that led Bonnie Drewniany to think big – Super Bowl big.
This spring semester marks the ninth year that USC advertising professor Drewniany has taught her innovative Super Bowl Advertising course that uses Super Bowl TV commercials to explore culture, consumerism and the creative process.
“I’ve always loved advertising,” Drewniany said. “As a child I collected Coca Cola memorabilia and cut ads from my parents’ magazines. I really had a passion for how advertisers communicated with their audiences.”
That passion led the Taunton, Mass., native to choose a career in advertising. She studied advertising at Syracuse University and earned her M.B.A. at Rutgers University before joining Macy’s Corporation, where she led the retailer’s advertising for its mid-Atlantic Bamberger’s department stores for 10 years.
After a decade of leverage buyouts and mergers in the rough-and-tumble 1980s, Drewniany chose a new direction in which to channel her energy and love for advertising -- teaching. Each week she drove, flew and rode the bus to teach retail advertising at Syracuse, Rutgers, Seton Hall University and the Parsons New School for Design.
“It was a lot of fun and the best introduction to teaching because I wasn’t teaching one class to one set of students,” Drewniany said. “It taught me that you cannot teach the same subject the same way because the dynamic of each class is different.”
Drewniany draws from her archive of Super Bowl commercials to demonstrate the power of messages. She devotes an entire talk on the most influential Super Bowl commercial – Apple’s 1984, which introduced the Apple computer to the world without ever showing it.
“It was the commercial that turned the Super Bowl into an ad bowl,” Drewniany said. “It has many nuances. It took four months to get the Orwellian image of Big Brother into the commercial, but the irony is that because of Apple’s products, anyone can do it in minutes today. It also never showed the product, a strategy that made it so conversational. It was that revolutionary and it stirred talk. Even the three networks stopped what they were doing to analyze the spot. Today, we expect media to cover Super Bowl ads.”
On Feb. 5, Drewniany and her 90 students gathered to critique this year’s crop of Super Bowl commercials. Called the Super Ad Poll, the annual viewing event lets students apply what they learn by grading the ads on brand identity, persuasiveness and likeability.
One of the trends that students looked for were consumer-created commercials. In class, they looked at the five contenders vying for the Doritos ad spot, which promotes the popular snack during the Super Bowl.
“These ads are persuasive in that they convey the passion people have toward the Doritos brand,” Drewniany said. “The fact that consumers are able to generate these commercials is absolutely amazing. It really has put the ad industry on notice.”
Students also looked for spots that were teased prior to the game, specifically a new Star Wars theme ad for Volkswagen and the introduction of Miss Brown, M & M’s newest character and chief chocolate officer.
Clad in a football referee uniform with a whistle in hand, Drewniany guided the students through voting using clicker technology. She said no one should mistake her outfit for anything but the uniform of an advertising arbiter.
“I hate football. I’ve always hated football,” she said. “I have no idea who plays in the games. I’m all about the commercials.”
Drewniany said she looks forward to inviting the creative team of the winning commercial to campus to claim the coveted Cocky Award, which she and students have presented to advertising teams since 2004.
“The joy for me now is alumni who remain a part our Super Bowl experience. In 2009, alumnus John Baker won the Cocky Award for his Bud Light Conan O’Brien commercial. This year alumnus Justin Bajan called me to say his KIA commercial would be appearing in the Super B Bowl and that he hoped to win the Cocky. Of course I didn’t tell my students about that.”
And, in case you are wondering, the professor whose big passion began with thinking small indeed bought a VW Beetle as her first car.
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