Calling All Kids: Take Tough Courses

College access advertising campaign aims to encourage 8th through 10th graders to take on biology, foreign languages and algebra II.
May 14, 2008

A gladiator-like figure, Algebra II is 7’2" and single. He’s “quite good on the bongos” and enjoys the ocean, if only so he can assign variables to the sea gulls swirling in the sky like “some sort of crazy math problem.”

Algebra II is one of several warrior-like characters featured in the second phase of the KnowHow2GO advertising campaign, which stresses the need for college-bound kids to take tough classes (algebra II, foreign languages and biology, specifically). The college access campaign, which features television and radio public service advertisements, print publications and posters, and a significant Web presence (complete with character-specific MySpace pages, the source of Algebra II's profoundly personal information above), aims to reach students in grades 8 through 10, especially low-income and would-be first generation college attendees. In a television spot, characters representing each of the three school subjects are called into a steel cage, before students step in and up to the academic challenges that the characters personify. “Sign me up.”

“We asked ourselves, ‘What kid doesn’t like a challenge?' ” said Shawn Gauthier, a vice president and creative director for the New York ad agency Publicis USA, which created the advertisements on a pro bono basis. “When they’re playing video games, they’re taking on different characters and we wanted to borrow from that mentality.”

The four-phase campaign, which launched in January 2007, is a joint project of the Advertising Council, the Lumina Foundation for Education and the American Council on Education. In the first year of the campaign, which focused on encouraging students to tell others that they wanted to go to college, media markets donated $69.6 million in advertising time and space, according to ACE. The campaign’s resource-rich Web site -- to which the advertisement directs viewers -- attracted more than half a million visits.

The new ads will be distributed to 33,000 media outlets, and about 820,000 brochures have been distributed through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Education.

“They’re entertaining but they send a real, solid message,” Molly Corbett Broad, ACE's president, said of the new ads. “This really is an important message that we have not been giving to 8th through 10th graders in the past. We have not said to them directly that in order to be college-ready and be admissible to college you have to take the tough courses.”

“This is definitely not the image that my generation would have imagined, but I think it is aimed directly at the digital native generation. These characters now have MySpace pages, they’re on YouTube, they have fan pages on Facebook. They are part of the culture," Broad said.

And does she, an economist, have a favorite character? Why, Algebra II.


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