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Talking Bear Spreads Promise of Berkeley

by Sunny Merik, Public Affairs
posted November 11, 1998

What bear plays football, composes on a typewriter, and works equations? The Cal bear, of course. A 1928 version of Cal's mascot charms viewers in Berkeley's newest institutional spot that airs during televised football games.

If you watch college athletics on TV, you've no doubt seen the ads that run at half time, hyping the home campuses of competing teams. Their cookie-cutter look -- the standard shots of classrooms, labs, students sauntering across campus while an announcer extols the mission and benefits of education at that particular university -- makes them almost interchangeable.

When Chancellor Berdahl commented on the need for an institutional spot that would stand out from the rest as Berkeley stands out from all other universities, director Mary Keegan and her staff at development communications went to work.

With 1928 year book photographs of a bear engaged in various aspects of university life, and archival campus photos from the same era, Keegan approached Jump Ship Studios in San Francisco.

"We had permission from author Joan Didion to use some of her comments from her 1956 graduation from Berkeley," Keegan said. "And we had the concept of animating the bear from the old photos and having him use Didion's words to explain the power and uniqueness of a Berkeley education."

Jump Ship's animation, created an arresting, humorous newsreel-footage-style spot. The black-and-white commercial looks like it emerged from the Roaring Twenties.

"Bringing still photos of the bear to life and moving him along in this kind of surreal world consisting of archival still photography was enjoyable to do from a creative standpoint," said Jump Ship's Ray Penezic. "The moves had to be intentionally imperfect to heighten the humor. We made the bear wiggle, vibrate a bit, staying true to a 1920s style."

The piece opens with an old-fashioned car bringing the bear to campus. The bear narrates, "I arrived at Berkeley at 18 with two new suitcases, a portable typewriter, a yearning to be someone better and not the slightest business being there. I was unprepared, I was ignorant."

Following scenes show the bear pecking away at a typewriter, struggling with a

science experiment, watching a spinning globe, sitting in the grandstands, listening intently in a lecture hall, playing football, even tickling the ivories of a grand piano.

Meanwhile, the voiceover continues: "Without Berkeley, the world I know would have been narrow, constricted, diminished, more ordered, less risky, but not the world I wanted. Not free. Not Berkeley."

And then the bear faces the camera and says, "Not me."

The one-minute spot ends with a graphic designed by Greg Young, design director of development communications, which reads: "The Promise of Berkeley."

The spot is garnering favorable comments, said Keegan. The humor and old-fashioned flavor grab viewers' attention.

The message lingers.

The spot aired first during the Pacific 10 Conference football games Sept. 12 on FOX, Channel 2.

"It has aired on every football game this season," said Keegan. "And it will also be aired during basketball games."

To see the talking bear, watch the 3:30 p.m. game against Arizona on Saturday, Nov. 14, on KICU-TV (Channel 36). It will also be aired during Big Game on KGO-TV (Channel 7) Nov. 21 at 12:30 p.m.


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