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The Unexpected Story

Go behind the scenes of “The Unexpected” video production.

Be honest, how many of you expected to see Ohio Northern University on your television screen during the Super Bowl? It’s okay if you didn’t. The University’s new television commercial was actually intended to reflect its name: “The Unexpected.” And while the sight of an ONU commercial may have been a surprise, the message it contains —choose ONU for the best place to launch into the next phase of life— isn’t.
The idea of creating a television commercial has been on the radar of ONU administrators and the Office of Communications and Marketing for some time, and this year that idea was turned into a reality after deciding that video could be a powerful medium to convey the overall appeal of ONU. The launch of the video has been hugely successful and has created significant buzz among alumni, prospective students, current students and the higher education world.

We aren’t your typical private institution,” says Amy Prigge, ONU executive director of communications and marketing. “Our five colleges focus on a unique blend of liberal arts, sciences and professional offerings. ‘The Unexpected’ celebrates the unique attributes of ONU.

While the exact numbers of viewers for the 30-second television spot are difficult to determine, the longer, 75-second online video that also debuted on Sunday, Feb. 5, has been extremely well received. On the University’s Facebook page alone at press time, the video had reached more than a quarter of a million people and was viewed 91,000 times. It’s been liked by 5,400, shared 1,300 times and garnered more than 500 comments. The response is unprecedented in the University's marketing efforts.
“Our overall goal is to appeal more broadly to prospective students and parents and show them how we are a cutting-edge institution,” says Prigge. “We want even more people to learn about ONU, know what we’re all about, see the programs and activities we have to offer and decide if we’ll be a good fit for their academic pursuits.”




The creative talents of ONU's communications and marketing team were showcased, and they pulled together to accomplish this project over many months. There was significant effort put in even before the cameras could capture ONU's unique flavor. Before filming and logistics were vetted, the development process for the video’s message and content was one of the lengthiest steps in the entire process, and there were many questions that needed to be asked: Who is the target audience? What should be the tone? When and where should it be released? Aside from those questions, the video needed to provide a well-rounded picture of exactly what student life is like at ONU, from academics to athletics to clubs to social and community-based activities.
Another goal was to increase visibility and expose new people to the University so that ONU is no longer a best-kept secret.

After months of conceptual discussions between ONU officials and the University’s branding partner, 160over90, a script was drafted as a starting point for what to shoot for. Next came the task of actually bringing the ideas to life.

ONU’s Social Media Manager Daniel Combs, who is the co-director and co-producer of “The Unexpected,” was integral to the video’s development, as was the entire Office of Communications and Marketing. Involved from the commercial’s inception, Combs worked side by side with 160over90 through the entire process of logistical arrangements, filming, editing and everything in between.

There was a lot of filming – 50 hours’ worth to be exact – but before any of that could commence, planning was necessary to ensure that filming would go as smoothly as possible. Times and locations had to be arranged for filming and those involved in production had to make sure student and faculty actors could be present, which was no small feat.

For filming, 160over90 brought in a crew of seven people, and the entire Communications and Marketing team were essential during the shoot. The process was long and demanding, with five straight 10-hour days needed to film 20 different scenes.

160over90’s team expressed gratitude to the University and the community for welcoming them and making their jobs easier.

Scene after scene, throughout our entire week of shooting, I noticed a real spirit on campus that, in turn, allowed us to capture something truly authentic,” says Ben Harrison, senior designer at 160over90. “I can’t thank the ONU and Ada community enough for taking us in and letting us be a part of the community for a week. I’ve never had so much fun working so hard.

Once there was enough raw visual content to draw from, the editing began, as 160over90 had the task of whittling down 12 hours, 38 minutes and 12 seconds of footage into two comparatively miniscule segments, one 30 seconds long and one 75 seconds long. The amount of footage that made the final cut into the finished commercial and video amounts to less than one percent of the total.

Combs, too, assisted in the development of the video alongside 160over90, spending time in Philadelphia reviewing the company’s video draft. The video needed to send a clear message and maintain a level of excitement to entice parents and prospective students to want to learn more.

“My personal task was to try to see where I could help keep the campus’ energy while still concentrating on what our core focus is, which is to show that we are really robust academically, athletically and socially,” Combs says.

Overall, the amount of labor hours that went into the project was countless, Combs says, but definitely worth it.

“It’s a true testament and labor of love because at the end of it you’re absolutely exhausted. But at the same time, you’re energized to keep going,” he says. “It’s something that is truly exhilarating.”

Upon completion of the video, Prigge turned her attention to making sure people would see it. Since most of ONU’s students hail from Ohio, Prigge pursued all the major metropolitan areas in the state. There was some negotiating involved, but in the end, commercial slots were secured in the Lima, Toledo, Columbus, Dayton, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Fort Wayne, Ind., viewing areas during the most-watched television event of the year: the Super Bowl. The video will run on digital platforms as well.

In the end, the members of the production team are pleased with the end product and feel it accomplishes its intended purpose.

“I’m still excited every time that I see the video myself and am able to share it with others,” Prigge says. “After two-and-a-half years of process, planning and production to get to this point – it’s been a pretty rewarding experience for sure.”

Director Johnny Andow of 160over90 says the energy and excitement of the video came earnestly, since ONU and the community of Ada were presented in their natural light.

“The energy that comes out of the video is exclusively from the amazing, passionate and authentic people that we got to film,” Andow says. “Their passion moved the camera in a certain way, their energy inspired the music selection, and their welcoming community is what makes this video incredible.”

But in the end, the video is really about the students. The video tells their story, which is the most important one to share.

“It’s not any one student’s experience,” Combs says. “It’s a compilation of all of these students who are working hard and doing great at what they do, and I think it truly embodies that.”

Ohio Northern University is such a special place to take the next step, and, best of all, choosing ONU gives students the opportunity to make their college experience whatever they want it to be.

“This video demonstrates that Ohio Northern is a place that is all about students,” Prigge says. “Students are able to put together the college experience that they are looking for, and, in turn, discover that we’re the place that offers the unexpected.”