Pointless offseason rankings: Cal commercials

From the low budget 90s to the boring, repetitive 2010s, has Cal ever had a decent commercial?

May is about when the doldrums of the off-season really start to set in. College basketball season is well in the rear-view mirror and most of the off-season roster changes are in place. Spring practice has come and gone, and relevant football news is fleeting. Thus begins three months in which any news is largely bad and you’re just biding time until August and fall camp.

Which means it’s as good a time as any for silly off-season fun. A big thanks to youtube account CalBearsArchive, which does a great job removing commercials from old games, except for the halftime commercials when old Cal ads played. Without those games as sources, this list would have been all of three commercials long since Cal refuses to pay for new ads.

#1: The Promise of Berkeley

I love everything about this commercial. The old timey bear makes this stand out from every other college commercial featuring an overpaid coach, a waiving crowd of misleadingly diverse students and a guy moving chemicals from one test tube to another.

But what really makes it sing is using the work of Joan Didion, one of the greatest writers FROM California and one of the greatest writers to write ABOUT California. The voiceover captured how I felt arriving on campus, and how I feel about the university. Maybe this isn’t effective because it’s pandering to alums like me and wouldn’t speak to a 17 year old trying to decide where to apply . . . but I’m totally fine being pandered to.

If you’re reading this and you don’t identify with this charming Bear:

Well, what are you even doing here?!

#2: Whose domicile?

I’m not sure if this counts as a real commercial, as it seems to be advertising the football team more than the university. Still, this 30 second joke probably did more to tie Cal athletics together with UC Berkeley the institution than anything else attempted in the past 50 years, and led to Mic Men leading the student section in WHOSE DOMICILE? chants for the next 5 years or so.

I can’t decide if my favorite academic-speak line is “biosynthesis of glycogen” or “Latin and Greek derivation” but it’s all great. Somewhere some ad agency has the outtakes and cut lines and I’d pay money to see them.

I wonder how much Tosh got paid for his participation in this commercial?

#3: What does UC Berkeley Mean to you?

(starts at the 16:30 mark of this video)

This is probably an objectively bad commercial. The production values appear to be quite low. Was this a final project from a Media Studies major who spaced on the assignment until a week before it was due? Why did they decide to use accordion music?

Still, there’s something oddly charming about interviewing random people around campus and stitching together their responses, and intentionally or unintentionally it ended up showing off the irreverence of your average person on campus. I like the guy in the tie-dye shirt who can only come up with ‘public school’ and the random dude who said ‘practical,’ probably because his parents wouldn’t let him go to a private school that he dreamed of.

This commercial aims low and doesn’t disappoint, unlike some of the slick-but-soulless commercials yet to come.

#4: Keeping the Promise

(starts at the 1:54:58 mark of this video)

Ultimately kind of blah, but bonus points for using Toast to California and bragging about Nobel prizes.

5th: You see Berkeley?

It’s hard to be objective about a commercial we’ve been stuck with for more than a decade. Still though, we’re trying to advertise an elite academic institution and our go-to advertising hook is a low end pun?!

I can’t quite remember when this commercial debuted, but I do remember when Cal first starting editing it, adding Lindsay Gottlieb after she was hired in 2011, so we know it’s at least that old. At first the occasional updates were kinda fun but seeing this Sonny Dykes version now it’s just a reminder of how crummy this past decade has been on the football field.

Let’s play a game with this commercial. Every time there’s a reference to something that’s Cal specific (say, the Bay Area, or the actual name of our educational institution) replace it with something that would instead apply to Fresno State, or CSU San Bernardino. Notice that the commercial would still work perfectly fine. The script is just so unremarkable and bland, and could apply to pretty much any university on the planet.

Hope you enjoy seeing it for another decade.

6th: The Promise of Berkeley

(starts at the 2:01:07 mark of this video)

If Cal hired an advertising agency for this commercial, that agency basically just stole money. How much work went into just putting a couple random letters on a black screen and then fading to a still shot of the Campanile? I guess it’s nice to have commercials that take pride in Cal’s public school status, but boy was this a snooze fest.

(On a side note, three of the six commercials I could find prominently featured the word ‘promise.’ Did Cal betray a bunch of people in the 80s?)


(starts at the 4:29 mark of this video)

Clemson’s ad during the 1992 Citrus Bowl was basically a powerpoint presentation of the Clemson strategic plan, and it’s exactly as dull as it sounds. When you’re trying to excite prospective applicants about your school, nothing’s better than droning on about fiber, ceramics, and composites. As dreary as many of Cal’s commercials were, I think this one takes the cake.