Tuesday, December 04, 2012

How Freekbass woke up the echoes

During last Friday's MAC Championship game, I happened to catch the PSA that Northern Illinois's Department of University Relations ran during the game. By the hammer of Grabthar, it was horrible! Good university ads do not use a font that's a seemingly random mixture of small and capital letters. Good university ads do not use a bizarre strobe effect when showing their title cards. Good university ads typically spotlight more photogenic professors or, better still, don't spotlight any professors at all.

NIU won the game 40-37 in double overtime and crashed the BCS, overcoming the losing psychology of weasel ex-head coach Dave Doeren, whose bizarre decision to sit on two timeouts at the end of regulation would have been blamed for their defeat.

Dating back to Every Day Should be Saturday's classic "YOUR SCHOOL'S PROMOTIONAL AD IS TEH SUX0RZ" series, every university-produced ad that has been met with howls of derisive laughter from both the university's rivals and disinterested observers has been followed by an upswing in the school's football fortunes. Sitting up on their clouds, the football gods must smile upon schools that don't waste their money on media relations. This is also why the football gods love gritty NFL players from small colleges with cheap ads instead of the glory-boy types from the big-spending schools.

The most notorious example of this phenomenon is this one:

"Hot Hot Hot" was posted to YouTube on December 6, 2005, between the quarterfinals and the semifinals of that year's FCS playoffs. Immediately in the wake of the video, ASU won three straight national championships and did something else notable. I'm sure I'll remember what that was eventually.

Example #2: Freekbass! We down a bottle of champagne every time we post this video. It's the sweetest tradition in all of sports.

"We are ND" was posted on April 29, 2010, following the unceremonious dismissal of Charlie Weis. An immediate web sensation, it rushed through EDSBS, Deadspin, and MGoBlog within 24 hours and earned mainstream mockery from SI.com by May 7.

However, the power of the terrible video is strong. Brian Kelly's appearance in the video moved the football gods to forgive his weasel coaching moves and reward ND with back-to-back 8-5 seasons and this year's by a BCS championship appearance. Apparently, 80's funk played by a scrawny white dude was the secret to waking up the echoes.

Example #3: Great Pick.

You know a promotional video is bad when the guy who posts it to YouTube feels sorry for the guy who stars in it. Posted on March 30, 2007, this video is currently being repurposed by UConn as part of its application packages for the ACC and Big Ten. 2006 was UConn's third year in the Big East and they went 1-6 in conference play. In the Big East. Immediately following the release of this video, UConn went 9-4 and won its first share of the Big East championship. This was followed by three straight years of 8-5, culminating in a UConn's first BCS appearance.

Example #4: The POWER TOWEL.

Posted on September 5, 2007 by user "petejayhawk," which tells you most of you need to know. Kansas State finishing the 2006 season by losing the Texas Bowl to Rutgers, 37-10. To repeat, they lost a bowl game to Rutgers! That is clearly the nadir of any college football program. After two 5-7 seasons under Ron Prince, ageless wizard Bill Snyder has improved K-State's record every year, culminating in the school's first ever #1 ranking in the BCS. Unfortunately for K-State, the humiliation of the POWER TOWEL was trumped by a newer, more powerful, embarrassment...

Example #5: OU Anthem.

Posted October 11 of this year, less than three weeks after the Sooners were upset at home by K-State. Two days later, Oklahoma administered an epic 63-21 beatdown of Texas, highlighted by a beyond-epic 36-2 halftime score. However, as I showed in my "Humilibreakdown" post two months ago, and would have shown in an Atlantic article if I had been allowed to write one, OU Anthem was not quite humiliating enough to halt Notre Dame's return to glory. However, the football gods smiled an insane, spastic, smile at Oklahoma and gave Nick Florence the power to strike down K-State, thereby opening up the opportunity for the Sooners to grab a share of the Big XII title.

On the other hand, many major programs that continually fall just short of winning it all are clearly being smote by the football gods for their shameless, successful, attempts at self-promotion.

Example #1: Oregon Duck Gangnam Style.

The Ducks pulled off a million-to-one shot this year by making the world's best parody of Gangnam Style. (Speaking of million-to-one shots, how are we supposed to seriously believe that the Death Star in Star Wars wouldn't protect its weakest point with at least a grate of some sort? Major plot hole right there.) However, this quality effort tempted fate, as it's completely inappropriate to show your cheerleaders in a video without indicating what their majors are. If lonely middle-aged men don't know what the cheerleaders' majors are, how are they supposed to pretend they're interested in their brains? Fate took the shape of a demented evergreen tree for the Ducks, as Stanford locked them out of the Pac-12 and BCS championship games.

Example #2: UGA Chapel Bell.

After Michigan retired the ingenious "Space Yellow" ad, there was a vacancy at the top of the college ad rankings until September 2011, when the Bulldog Collective, a group of advertising professionals and Georgia alumni, filmed this spot about Georgia's Chapel Bell tradition. The best time to watch this spot was during the 2011 LSU-Georgia game, when it aired right after this embarrassing LSU spot boasting about Better Than Ezra. "UGA Chapel Bell" saw that ad, and said "Your band went platinum. That's cute. Here's our band. They went platinum 17 times, are 17 times better than your band, and thought that UGA was the only institution worth licensing their music for. Also, the only time your band's been relevant in the past ten years is when they wrote a song referencing our band." LSU won that game, 42-10. (As for me, I don't care for R.E.M. They sold out when they let the 688 Club record this performance in 1981.) Rumor has it that Georgia's next commercial will feature its newest tradition, remembering to DROP THE DAMN BALL.

What does all this mean for the BCS championship? This year's Alabama ad, "Touching Lives: Frozen" is a traditional, boring university ad. The only embarrassing thing about this is when the narrator refers to Alabama's "nationally-ranked" academic programs. Congratulations, Alabama, you've been ranked! Even "obscure" colleges of every year Indiana of Pennsylvania and California of Pennsylvania are ranked! You should really only boast about good rankings.

Notre Dame's official ad this year is "An Irish Blessing 2012." The Irish Blessing ads are better than most, as they capture what makes Notre Dame unique while also emphasizing the diverse opportunities at the university.

So, if we're going by 2012 alone, we predict Alabama. However, the power of Freekbass may compel AJ McCarron into making a key mistake that leads to a Notre Dame victory. Maybe.

What does all this mean for Michigan football? Obviously, our commercials have been too good. We spent 2004-2007 celebrating the awesomeness of "Space, Bitches, Space!" and not noticing the slow decline of Lloyd Carr's final teams. Switching to the lightbox format in 2009 was a smart move, as commercials that try to cram everything a university does in 30 seconds are consistently unremarkable. However, there is too much intellectual honesty in these ads: even the staged images are demonstrations of authentic activities - there are no obviously fake tropes like the Asian woman looking in the microscope*. If we want Teams 134 and beyond to rise up to the next level, Public Relations has to take the initiative and sacrifice any notion of good taste.

We have the resources on campus, but we've been deploying them incorrectly. Special K shouldn't be pumping up the crowd on gameday: he needs to be in the studio, mashing up "The Victors" and "Don't Stop Believin'". We need the MMB performing "In the Big House" and Pop Evil composing a string quartet rearrangement. We need a series of ads, each tackier than the last, showing off libraries and tailgates and everything else that every school has and interspersing them with clips of actors yelling "WOLVERINES!" from the Red Dawn remake. Once all this humiliating crap is posted on the UM YouTube channel, we'll be writing "GAME OVER" in our notebooks after finishing off undefeated season after undefeated season.

*Going into professional mode for a moment, here are three reasons why the trope of the Asian woman looking into a microscope is fake. First, no scientific microscopy is ever done in a well-lit, wide open, laboratory. Scientific microscopy requires complete control of the intensity and wavelength of light and thus microscopes are always kept in a back room or closet where the only source of light is from the microscope itself. Second, it's very rare to actually use the eyepiece; it's far more useful to have a camera connected in its place. Third, most scientific uses of microscopes require temperature control around the microscope stage and thus much of the microscope is covered by a big ugly plastic box that you never see on TV. Those are three technical reasons; I'm not going to even touch on how problematic it is that university PSAs almost always cast an Asian woman for this trope.

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