Ad Spotlight: Hastings College

At the core of every business is a story that is often told through advertising. Today, those who leverage storytelling in video advertising are likely to stand out among the crowd of their competitors.

But how does a story evolve from an idea to a 30-second video ad? Follow this journey as brands dive into each step of their creative process in our Ad Spotlight interview series.

Kicking off this series are Michael Howie, Director of Marketing, and Ross Struss, Communications Coordinator, from Hastings College. Their ad on Hulu highlights how Hastings College has embraced remote learning in response to COVID-19.

“As an institution that prioritizes and excels in mentoring, our focus is on students and helping them find their way.”

Tell us about Hastings College

What do you do?

Michael Howie, Director of Marketing

Michael Howie: We are a small residential private college in south central Nebraska. As an institution that prioritizes and excels in mentoring, our focus is on students and helping them find their way.

How are you different from your competitors? What makes you stand out?

Michael: The way Hastings College approaches technology, books, scheduling, and travel differentiates us from other universities.

Every student receives an iPad and Apple Pencil at no additional cost. All books – physical and digital – are also included in tuition. Our block schedule (two-week or seven-week) allows each student to take 1-2 classes at a time.

We emphasize travel as a key differentiator, with a two-week travel class included in our curriculum. In the face of uncertainty related to the pandemic, we are pausing travel for the next school year and will resume for the 2021-22 school year.

“When Mike let me know that Hulu approached us, I jumped out of my seat because this was the perfect time to reach viewers at home across so many demographics.”

Why did you choose Hulu Ad Manager to help you tell your story?

Ross Struss, Communications Coordinator

Ross: It’s important to note how much we wanted to be on Hulu over the past few years. Before it didn’t work with our budget since our budget is not huge and we diversify as best as we can. We recognized that there’s so many people from so many age groups who use Hulu, so we really wanted a chance to advertise on Hulu.

When Mike let me know that Hulu approached us, I jumped out of my seat because this was the perfect time to reach viewers at home across so many demographics. It’s not business as usual, but we’re trying to keep things as normal as we can. We always knew that Hulu would be a great advertising platform for us.

Audience

Who is your audience?

Michael: Our marketing targets high school students and their parents.

What are words or phrases you want the audience to associate with your brand after watching the video?

Michael: “Hastings College” is high on our list since we are building brand recognition.

Ross Struss: We also want to be synonymous with “hope” and “reassurance,” particularly among high school seniors who are exploring college options. Even while everything is in flux, they can still talk to us, and we hope that fosters a sense that things will be ok.

Michael: Hastings is a close-knit community in Nebraska with a population of 25,000. We want that sense of community to get through to our audience. Alumni who saw the ad reached out to us, which was exciting.

Message

What is your primary message in this ad?

Michael: The main elements of our marketing messaging are technology, books, travel, and affordability. In light of the current situation, we set out to make a script that focused on these talking points (minus travel) and also emphasized virtual education.

We wanted prospective students to know that we wish we could have them visit the campus and that while they can’t visit in-person at the moment, they can schedule a virtual visit now.

Using similar messaging on multiple platforms made the writing process easy. We were thrilled that we were able to put something together over a couple of days.

What is your call to action?

Michael: Visit Virtually. We wanted the audience to sign up for a virtual visit of Hastings College.

Tone

Which audience emotions do you address?

Michael: We reinforce that we are here and we are open. For parents in the audience, we made a point to communicate our commitment to student safety.

We also emphasize that private college can be affordable, hence the video graphic in the ad touting available scholarships. While we updated the ad to reflect the times, we wanted the ad to still look familiar and aligned with earlier ads.

As for students, “Go Somewhere” is not an official tagline, although we frequently use this language.

It means go to Hastings College, go travel through our study abroad program, go somewhere in life after college, and so on. We’re all about helping students go somewhere.

“We wanted to display a sort of ‘normalcy’ to reassure students that things are going to be ok and that we are still operating.”

What brand cues do you utilize to establish your brand identity?

Michael: Focusing on the beauty and vibrancy of our college campus was a conscious decision.

We wanted to display a sort of “normalcy” to reassure students that things are going to be ok and that we are still operating. This meant avoiding gloom and doom, so no dark, empty buildings and somber piano.

The upbeat music bed is the same one we’ve used for 5-6 years in all our ads. Same goes for the ad’s end card.

Creative Process

“We start with the voiceover (VO), which becomes the baseline for the story. From there, we use our brand template and elements such as our tagline, logo, and music bed to keep our audiovisual identity.”

Walk us through the creative development process for your video ad – ideation, planning, script writing, production.

Michael: We start with the voiceover (VO), which becomes the baseline for the story. From there, we use our brand template and elements such as our tagline, logo, and music bed to keep our audiovisual identity.

We thought about how we could use the b-roll footage that we already have. We looked for what had the right energy, the right light, and the right movement. Thankfully we were able to produce, shoot, and edit everything in-house.

We do use outside VO talent and have our go-to talent so the voice stays consistent. That brings our cost to $100 and staff time.

How should a business approach the challenge of telling its story in 30 seconds?

Michael: Start with the words. The script is important, but it has to be clear, not flowery. Avoid using extra words – keep it simple and to the point. Keep paring down the script until you get it right.

Collaborate among your team to be clear and concise. Establish a strong foundation of message: know your messaging pillars and talking points. In our case, for example, we added virtual visits to our messaging.

Once you have nailed the message, make sure your visuals match your words.

What are the qualities of a successful video ad from your perspective?

Michael: Clear audio and crisp visuals are must-haves. Be consistent with both.

Ross: Without a pleasing voice at an appropriate volume, viewers will tune out. Having a clean-looking ad is also important – use high-quality video and don’t splash a lot of words on screen.

Learn More About Hulu’s Self-Service Advertising Solution

Thank you for sharing your insights, Michael and Ross! We look forward to what’s ahead for Hastings College.

Looking for a way to capture the attention of the highly engaged Streaming TV audience? Learn more about Hulu Ad Manager, a more affordable way to appear next to TV’s biggest hits and show Hulu’s extensive viewer community what your company has to offer.


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Q: Why do you ask for progressive?

A: The Hulu player, unlike traditional broadcast, does not play back interlace scan, so we require that all videos be delivered with their scan type set to progressive. If your video is natively interlaced, you must de-interlace it to progressive and you must employ a de-interlace filter that does not result in blending or ghosting artifacts. We recommend an auto-adaptive de-interlace if available.

Stress mark should be marked with [capitals] to indicate the primary stressed syllable, as in: news・pa・per [NOOZ-pey-per] in・for・ma・tion [in-fer-MEY-shuhn]

On living room, mobile, and tablet devices, the color gradient overlay is dynamic and will change based on the cover story art. It is not something we can control on our end.

If the tagline/date messaging doesn’t fit within the 11 syllables max, it can be included as text.

On living room, mobile, and tablet devices, the color gradient overlay is dynamic and will change based on the cover story art. It is not something we can control on our end.

  • No symbols such as registered marks, copyrights, etc.
  • If symbols are required, they will be presented in standard text such as" Brand (TM)".

Q: When is letterboxing allowed and not allowed?

A: When the native aspect ratio is 1.78:1 or 1.33:1 throughout the entire program, there should not be any letterboxing (black bars on top and bottom), nor should there be any pillarboxing (black bars on either side). We should should see an active picture take up the full frame. If the aspect ratio is wider than 1.78:1, such as 2.35:1, matting on the top and bottom is permissible. Additionally, if there is a creative choice to add matting or if there is a mix of native aspect ratios, this is usually waived, but please reach out to your Hulu representative to confirm.

Q: Should the bitrate be constant if delivering ProRes codec?
A: No, since ProRes codec is built to be variable, this is waived.

Q: Can you accept bitrate higher than 30 Mbps?
A: Yes, we can accept bitrate beyond the recommended range for H.264 and ProRes. In the case of ProRes, bitrate will often exceed 30 Mbps due to its variable setting.

Q: What does native frame rate mean?

A: Native frame rate refers to the frame rate the source footage was shot. Whenever possible, we require all videos to be delivered in their native frame rate. This means that no frame rate conversion should be performed, which includes adding 3:2 pulldown for broadcast.

Q: Why do you prefer PCM codec?

A: PCM codec is lossless audio quality, so whenever possible, please deliver PCM audio.

The use of Graphik is acceptable in cases where the Client cannot supply their own typeface.

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Q&A With
Gadi Amit

Founder, New Deal Design

Gadi: The development of serendipity in recommendations is very important. An analogy I use is that of a restaurant. If you go to a good restaurant, you don’t always want to see what you’re looking for. You’re looking for surprises. It’s not the expected, it’s the unexpected. You trust in the restaurant’s atmosphere. You don’t know exactly what you’re getting, but you trust their creativity and that you’ll enjoy whatever they serve you.

Do you think it is possible for a streaming service to become that “restaurant” - a trusted source of serendipitous recommendations?

Gadi: I absolutely do. But it is difficult. It’s a long game. It requires them to build trustworthiness with audiences through genuine content recommendations over the years.

Q&A With
Gandi Amit

Found New Deal Design

Gandi: The development of serendipity in recommendations is very important. An analogy I use is that of a restaurant. If you go to a good restaurant, you don’t always want to see what you’re looking for. You’re looking for surprises. It’s not the expected, it’s the unexpected. You trust in the restaurant’s atmosphere. You don’t know exactly what you’re getting, but you trust their creativity and that you’ll enjoy whatever they serve you.

Do you think it is possible for a streaming service to become that “restaurant” -- a trusted source of serendipitous recommendations?

Gandi: I absolutely do. But it is difficult. It’s a long game. It requires them to build trustworthiness with audiences through genuine content recommendations over the years.

Q&A With
Jonathan Miranda

Emerging Strategy Principal, Salesforce

Another expectation among younger generations seems to be personalization. How are you seeing this play out in media?

Jonathan: If you go into the world of advertising and marketing, customized, personalized advertising is more important than ever before. There’s a realization that eight years of funny commercials that we’ve showed everybody probably for the fourth time, doesn’t work anymore. So there’s a lot of companies moving towards specialized advertising.

How does this type of personalization translate to personalizing content beyond advertising? Who’s going to predict what people will want to watch, and do it first?

Jonathan: It’s not about being the first to predict what people want to watch. It's different. It’s about getting viewers to browse. You want to show them the value of all of the money Hulu has spent and the great range of TV and film for them to choose from.

Q&A With
Julie DeTragila

Head of Research & Insights, Hulu

Julie: There are vast differences between the way under 35-year-olds watch TV and over 35-year-olds watch TV. I grew up in a world where there were maybe 10 channels, and my viewing changed as technology and options changed. Younger viewers started from a really different place. Everything has always been on-demand. Anything they ever wanted to see was available to them, and they therefore have different expectations for TV.

How so?

Julie: One of the things we found with Gen Z is that they really want to be immersed in something for a long time. They want to have content that they can live with for a while; it’s like this long, seamless storytelling. They’ll knock off a couple episodes a night and it will last a couple of months. And then they’ll re-watch it a million times over.

What other shifts have you seen happen-with Gen Z but also more broadly-with the rise of streaming?

Julie: For years, television had to deliver a specific rating. Shows had to appeal broadly or else they wouldn’t survive. And those days are long gone because, with streaming services, shows can reach hundreds of thousands of people or tens of thousands of people and still be considered successful. There’s more experimentation with the types of content; we’re not locked into an hour, a half hour, a comedy, etc. The industry can create really niche shows to appeal to niche audiences, but also simultaneously create big, broad experiences that are shared by millions.

Q&A With
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Founder, #HalftheStory

Your work focuses a lot on Gen Zs who, for better or worse, are dubbed “digital natives.” How do you think a generation of digitally native audiences view digital content differently than older generations?

Larissa: I think for young people digital content is a way they’re able to explore their own identities through the story... They want to see themselves and their stories in the content that they’re engaging with.

Tell us a little more about this digital content as Gen Z’s form of self-reflection.

Larissa: Digital content is sort of like a currency. I find that young people want to watch things that their friends are watching so that they can have conversations about it. For example, with Euphoria, young people were just kind of in love with the characters. It was very timely and a bit provocative, and then there was a way that they could see themselves in these stories and connect with their friends about the topics and ideas in the show.

And then also they could almost embody these characters in their own life. I really do think that the TV shows that young people are buying into are actually influencing their culture and their trends and even their language that they’re using.

Q&A With
Richard Frankel​

Global Creative Director, Spotify

What does the future of personalization look like?

Richard: I think it’s all down to trust. We're going to see more opportunity on platforms like Hulu and Spotify where the user trusts us.

That’s really interesting. Another area we wanted to explore is podcasts, and their relationship to video. For example, the show Homecoming is an adaptation of a podcast; the podcast Office Ladies is a spin-off from a TV show. Why do you think the two formats work so well together?

Richard: Anything at all that drives conversation in pop culture, and TV does a lot of that, is worthy of consideration in a podcast environment. Any of these conversations can become multiple audio streams that evolve with experts, interviews, and all kinds of narrative threads that can flesh out characters, or narrative development, or whatever's happening in those shows.