October 3, 2017

Hello Times Square!

UMass students’ winning PSA splashed on billboards across the nation
Recent UMass Amherst grad Julia Keefe and student Kyle Pandiscio with their award-winning public service ad on display in Times Square.

The medium is the message—any roadside ad admonishing drivers to pay attention to what they are doing and not text had better be short, succinct, and immediately comprehensible. That is the victory of the UMass student team made up of Isenberg School of Management undergraduate Kyle Pandiscio ’19 and BDIC graduate Julia Keefe ’17, whose award-winning PSA will now be displayed—er, texted—on thousands of digital billboards across the country.

Pandiscio and Keefe won first-place honors in the billboard display category for Project Yellow Light for a design autocorrecting “Don’t Text and Drive” to “Don’t Text and Die”—to enforce the concept that a texting accident can occur in a split second. Their project, “Auto Car-Wreck”, was chosen out of a field of 1,150 teams.

UMass Amherst student advertising competition winners.

UMass student Kyle Pandiscio and recent graduate Julia Keefe.

The basic irony of creating a billboard when the campaign’s whole point is for drivers to keep their eyes on the road was not lost on the creators: so they maximized the impact by making the format the text message itself. “When people are driving, the last thing [we] want to do is create a billboard that is distracting,” Pandiscio told the Boston Globe.

Keefe, now employed as an account coordinator with Boston-based media company Element Productions, describes the team’s creative process: “We did a massive brainstorm about texting,” she says. “Then we did the same process about driving. It was a two-tiered idea. We needed something readable and relatable—something instantly recognizable, where you go: ‘Wait a minute, why is there an iPhone screen over there?’”

“We wanted to avoid anything that was super intense, dramatic, morbid, gory, or over the top,” she continues. “It’s too easy to dismiss as something that will never happen to me. But with the iPhone screen, you think, ‘Oh, wow, that applies to me!’

“From brainstorm to execution, we kept it simple, simple, simple. Once we had it, we put it together in Illustrator and Photoshop in three minutes.”

The team became connected to Project Yellow Light through UMass AdLab, where students gain professional experience developing and executing advertising campaigns for actual clients. Overseen by the AdLab faculty advisor, Isenberg marketing professor Elizabeth Miller, the team plunged headlong into the challenge of the contest, which stated matter-of-factly: “You can speak to your peers on this subject in a way that adults cannot.” “We are the audience,” says Keefe.

The competition was sponsored by the Ad Council, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Safety Administration, the National Organizations for Youth Safety, U-Haul, Clear Channel, and I Heart Radio.

If you would like to see the winning concept nearby, over the next year, it will be visible on Route 9 and interstates I-495 and I-290 in Massachusetts.