Ian Blackley only had 24 hours in New York City and his intent was to make the most of it. Or at least try to.
The Academy of Art University School of Advertising (ADV) B.F.A. student found himself in the Big Apple for the Radio Mercury Awards, a Radio Advertising Bureau event that recognizes excellence in radio advertising. Going into NYC, Blackley’s Tropicana radio spot, “I Am A Mouth,” was just a nominee for the Student Produced category; by the end of his trip, it walked out as the winner.
The script was performed by Jason Stephens, a voice actor whose work varies from CBS News and Time Inc. to Popeye’s Chicken. For the ad, he adopted a Jeff Goldblum-esque character to tell consumers why Tropicana is the better alternative.
The “I Am A Mouth” ad was part of a project for a Short Copy for Campaigns class (ADV 215) that Blackley took in 2017 (it was also a finalist for Spring Show that year). Blackley wanted to position Tropicana as a drink that’s healthier than soda, but cheaper than high-quality organic juices. Based off the fact that soda is typically riddled with chemicals, compounds, indistinguishable ingredients, Blackley played with the idea of “you get what you put into your body.”
During his trip, Blackley had an afternoon meeting scheduled with ADV alum Fabian Grateroles and senior creative designer at Droga5, a global ad agency. In between time, he did touristy things: Walking the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, shopping in SoHo and a stop for the infamous Katz’s Delicatessen pastrami sandwich.
“I thought everything would be close, but it was actually pretty stretched out,” he said. “Most of my time there was commuting via foot.”
Before this moment, Blackley’s path was a bit stretched out as well. Originally raised in Reno, Nevada, Blackley was enrolled at Truckee Meadows Community College for theatre but dropped out in 2008. It wasn’t until 2013 that advertising as a career first presented itself; a friend and fellow Academy ADV alumnus, Dudley Duberry, had just graduated and sold Blackley on the idea.
“When he pitched me, he said, ‘You could make so many short movies.’ That’s what commercials and campaigns are, right, short movies,” Blackley said. “You could make so much cool art—campaign posters, radio commercials—it was pretty much very open-ended on the possibilities on what you can make in advertising and that’s what drew me in.”
ADV Associate Director of Copywriting Mark Edwards said the department’s overall goal for students is to practice putting material together for their portfolio. He did mention, however, that a huge part is about learning how to entertain creative directors. He noted Blackley’s creative and comedic flair gives him a clear edge.
“He tries to make everything amusing, which is very refreshing,” commented Edwards, who also taught Blackley in his Writing for Radio class (ADV 315), while also acting as his mentor in recent semesters. “In some ways I’m not surprised [Blackley won] because he’s one of the most determined people I’ve come across. I’ve come to greatly admire his determination and he keeps going and going.”
Going into the Academy, Blackley said he adopted an “ambition will be the death of me” mentality and to date, he’s followed through. The I Am A Mouth piece that was part of his Short Copy for Campaigns class was only supposed to be a script. Blackley thought, “What good is a script if people can’t hear it?”
And boy, did a lot of people hear it. After his meeting with Grateroles and seeing the vast offices of Droga5, Blackley caught the train and went straight to the award show. When it came time to announce the winners of the Student Produced category, the lights dimmed, the theater went silent and Blackley braced himself. To recap the moment in his own words:
“In the darkness, the sweet sound of Jason Stephens doing a solid Jeff Goldblum impression emerged from the sound system. ‘Hi, hello, hi. I, I am a mouth…’ I started laughing in disbelief and made my way near the stage, ready to go up.”
Blackley shook hands and chatted with ad executives before meeting up with a friend for a drink and going back to the airport. His 24 hours in NYC was up and he walked away with a shiny award and newfound energy for his craft.
Recruiters and ad agencies have already reached out to Blackley, but for the moment, he’s intent on working full-time writing product copy at Levi Strauss & Co. while being a part-time student. He’s slated to graduate in 2022, though he said his finalized portfolio should be ready by Spring 2019. But Blackley said he’s in no rush to leave school just yet.
“All you really need is a portfolio to get a job in advertising,” he admitted. “But I’m so invested in [my education]; I’m not going to leave without a bachelor’s degree.”
Featured photo: Advertising student Ian Blackley took home a Radio Mercury Award for his radio ad, I Am A Mouth. Photo courtesy of Ian Blackley.