Shy Freshman Wins Super Bowl Ad Contest

Katie Crabb says she constantly struggles to speak up and get her ideas across.

But executives at Chevrolet liked what they heard — and for the past four months, this self-described shy 19-year-old has kept a $2.6 million secret: She's a big-time advertising guru.

Crabb won a nationwide competition for college students sponsored by Chevrolet to design a 30-second commercial for the company's new line of crossover cars.

Chevrolet aired the ad during the Super Bowl, an event watched as much for the commercials as for the game itself. The average price for a 30-second spot during the game, which was broadcast Sunday on CBS, is $2.6 million.

"I can't even imagine having that much money in my life and then to spend it on one 30-second spot," Crabb said at her home in North Prairie, about 45 miles west of Milwaukee.


Besides the ad, Chevrolet is getting buzz from the contest itself. The carmaker . Throughout January, Early Show viewers were asked to vote online for their favorite ad submissions.

In Week Four of that voting, "To the Moon and Back," an ad concept from Luke Wolf, Jason Wilcynski and Melissa Klang from the University of Wisconsin, Platteville (Team 218) was the viewers' choice, edging out "Crossing Over," from Laura Kessler and Irene Jeanotte of Savannah College of Art & Design (Team 787).

Crabb was revealed as the winner of the contest on Friday during CBS' airing of "Super Bowl's Greatest Commercials." Until then, she couldn't tell anyone, except for a few professors at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where she has since transferred to study English education and theater, her adviser at her old university and her family.

She also appeared on The Early Show Monday, from Miami, where she spent the weekend at the Super Bowl. To see the interview, .


Chevrolet put out the call to college students this fall, asking them to design a spot targeting a younger audience, highlighting either the HHR, Cobalt, Equinox or Aveo.

Plenty of other brands, such as Doritos and even the National Football League, have gotten into the amateur ad craze as well — especially during the Super Bowl, when the stakes are high and slots are expensive.

Students were told the winning ad would have to be "smart, simple and breakthrough," said Kim Kosak, general director of advertising and sales promotions for Chevrolet, a unit of General Motors Corp.

"We wanted something that was risk-taking and breakthrough, because if you're going to do the Super Bowl you have to take risks," Kosak said.

Crabb, then a freshman at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, entered the competition as an assignment in a journalism class. She never thought she would win, she said.

"It was one of those things where you take the opportunity because it's there. But it's like, 'It's going to happen to someone else because it never happens to you.' That kind of mindset," she said.

Chevrolet received entries from 820 teams from 230 schools. Five teams — 11 students in all — were selected as finalists and brought to Detroit in late October to work with advertising professionals to hone their pitches and present their ideas.

Crabb was the youngest participant and the only solo finalist.

Her ad, which will air throughout the year, shows an HHR stopped in New York City and men swarming the car, hoping to wash it so they can touch it. Crabb said her ad shows a different side of Chevrolet and takes a different approach to advertising for cars, which often are aimed at a male audience and feature women. As a football fan, she said she's watched the games, and commercials, for years.

"We never get commercials that are for us — very rarely we do, especially with car commercials," Crabb said of women.

And then she had to make it funny.

"You're never going to get noticed without being funny or so out there that people are like, 'What was that?"' she said.

Kosak said judges chose Crabb's ad because it was easy to understand and appealed to all ages.

"It's very simple, it's very smart because it all emanates from the product. But it has a very different feel for Chevrolet," she said.

Crabb took part in filming the ad in New York and gave input so it didn't stray much from her original vision. She said she's interested in film and hopes to pursue that one day.

Eventually, Crabb hopes life gets back to normal so she can settle into her studies at her new school. This summer, as part of her prize, she'll intern at advertising firm Campbell-Ewald, a unit of Interpublic Group of Cos., Inc. which handles all of Chevrolet's advertising. She had planned to continue working as a waitress at her hometown Applebee's, but figures the advertising gig will be a good learning experience, too.

Crabb was also offered a full-time job at the firm. Of course, she doesn't graduate for several more years, so who knows what will happen, she said with a smile.

"Right now, if I learn anything from this, it's 'go where the wind takes you,'" she said.
  • John Kreiser

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