'Talk' of the Town

Nedal Ahmed
Nedal Ahmed ('11) (Photo by Paul McGeiver)

UNT alumni Bryan Barnes and Nedal Ahmed created an ad that sparked conversation --and won an Emmy Award


Bryan Barnes ('10) and Nedal Ahmed ('11) sell everything from candy to health insurance.

But recently, the advertising executives tackled the difficult issue of race in a TV spot called "The Talk" -- and it won the Primetime Emmy Award for Best Commercial in September.

In "The Talk," a two-minute ad for Procter & Gamble, generations of black parents tell their children how they may face certain tough situations because of their race such being called "pretty for a black girl" or the importance of carrying an ID card in case a police officer stops them.

"To win an award for TV and film is so cool," says Barnes, art director for the advertising agency BBDO. "To do it for a commercial that doesn't have any products in it, just a message that helps society, is special."

Bryan Barnes ('10) (Photo by Billy Siegrist)

The path to Barnes' and Ahmed's advertising careers began at UNT. Each took classes from advertising professor Sheri Broyles, who dispensed all kinds of advice they still remember -- from not being late to speaking persuasively for their projects.

"You can't just have great ideas," says Barnes, who majored in communication design with a minor in advertising, earned top portfolio in the College of Visual Arts and Design and other awards in Broyles' class. "You have to be able to sell them."

Broyles nominated Ahmed for the American Advertising Federation's Most Promising Minority Student Program, which included a visit in New York.

"I immediately fell in love with the city," Ahmed says. "It opened my eyes to where my future could go."  

After graduation, Ahmed and Barnes first met when they were both hired by the DFW-based TracyLocke agency, where worked on a campaign that rebranded the city of Dallas.

After a few years, they both wanted to work on bigger accounts. Barnes first moved to BBDO in New York City and when he didn't have a writer, he persuaded his bosses to hire Ahmed. They've created ads for M&Ms, Dunkin' Donuts and other companies.

For Humana Insurance, they created an ad that showed an older, white-haired man running a crazy path all over the city -- with the GPS map making the route in the shape of a heart.

When CVS drugstore stopped selling cigarettes in 2014, Barnes and Ahmed created a 50-foot-tall replica of a cigarette that was placed at Bryant Park in New York City to promote the change. The cigarette was robotically extinguished throughout the day.

For "The Talk," Ahmed relied on personal experience, such as worrying about her younger brother.

"We really wanted to expose that there's a whole other talk black parents have with their children that people don't know about," says Ahmed, who now works for 72andSunny Amsterdam advertising agency. "The stakes are a lot higher."

She flew to Procter & Gamble's headquarters in Cincinnati to pitch it to the company's executives. As she presented the script for the ad, she looked up to find many of them had tears in their eyes.

"The Talk" also won the Cannes Film Festival Film Lions Grand Prix award in 2018.

Ahmed and Barnes haven't forgotten their roots. They speak at UNT alumni nights when Broyles brings students to New York City for a tour of advertising agencies.

The students are impressed by the success of the two alumni, Broyles says.

"It's like, 'Wow, maybe I can do that,'" she says.

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