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A team of BYU students took the top prize in the country’s most competitive student advertising competition — for a project they did not for a class or client, but for fun.

It was summer and they had a little extra time, so the crew set out to create “something big and cool and different,” said senior Taylor Dahl.

Their finished product — a whimsically illustrated and filmed Vespa commercial — took national best of show at Saturday’s Student American Advertising Awards Competition (commonly referred to as the ADDYs). Awards committee chair George Riddell called the competition a “showcase of bright new talent” that provides “a glimpse at the advertising industry of tomorrow.” The best of show award, one of 10 national ADDYs BYU received, is a high point in a season of high points for BYU’s ad program.

“The credibility that comes from winning an award show is immense in our industry because it’s not just you pounding your chest and saying you’re great, it’s the industry reminding everyone else that you are great,” said advertising professor Jeff Sheets.

In addition to their ADDYs, BYU ad students have received top honors this season from a host of national and international awards programs, including the One Show, the Global Association for Creative Advertising and Design Awards, the Cannes Lions and the Effie Awards.

The advertising program — fortified by a lab whose students have produced work for clients including Nike, L’Oreal, Volkswagen, Gatorade and more — is no stranger to recognition in both strategic and creative competitions. But the scope and breadth of this year’s awards has surpassed years past to a degree that BYU AdLab manager Pat Doyle calls "remarkable." The awards reflect both the robustness of BYU’s advertising program, Doyle said, as well as the drive and creativity of its students.

In approaching the Vespa project, Dahl said, he and his peers wanted to tackle something that would take “time and effort and craft and devotion.” It took time: “easily 10 times the amount we imagined,” he said, “but we wanted to get it right. And to see it come to life was so motivating.”

The student team created a small Italian town and disheartened wedding party out of stylized cardboard popups. When planned vows derail, Giuseppe Russo and his hipster Vespa save the day. Sheets, who helped mentor the crew, called their side-project ad “unexpected, smart, crafted, artisan. It’s got a lot of charm.”

Dahl traveled to New Orleans to receive the best of show ADDY and said the recognition is hard to process. “We put in a lot of work, but there are so many students out there from amazing programs competing, so to get this award is unbelievable.”

But even more valuable than the trophies and certificates and cash prizes, says Sheets, are the portfolios students are building, the industry connections they’re forging and the real-world experience they’re getting.

“Our students are confident, they are capable, and when they get into the workforce, they hit the ground running,” he said.

The program’s most recent batch of graduates, said Sheets, had internship and job offers from some of the country’s best and biggest agencies. One, Deutsch Los Angeles, which does work for Volkswagen, Target, Sprint and more, hired six grads into full-time positions. “BYU AdLab is a rare mix of great ideas and great people,” said Dana Commandatore, Deutsch’s executive vice president and executive director of creative services. “We’ve hired many talented folks from the program and have seen success on many levels. They are worthy of every distinction they get.”