An ECU marketing strategy class is competing in a national contest for the most effective marketing campaign. Participants drew attention to the two products they are promoting during an event this month on Wright Plaza. (Video and photos below by Cliff Hollis)
Students at East Carolina University are used to seeing the occasional costumed person cavorting across campus. A gorilla, in particular, has appeared multiple times this semester.
Last month, a man covered head-to-toe in purple spandex and wearing a yellow shirt that read “zaahah” joined that cast of characters. He danced with passing students, strolled alongside some and mimicked the actions of others.
If that wasn’t enough to draw attention, Wright Plaza was also occupied March 22 by a graffiti-covered white board, students in white shirts frozen in poses for several consecutive minutes and a 2012 Honda Civic Coupe with the doors and hood thrown open.
“What is this for?” several students stopped to ask. And that’s when Kaitlin Lynham launched into her spiel.
Lynham is a member of Christy Ashley’s marketing strategy class. The assistant professor in the College of Business’ Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management offered her students a unique opportunity this year: To compete in a nationwide contest to design marketing campaigns for real corporations.
Sponsored by marketing education consultancy firm EdVenture Partners, 58 participating ECU seniors are tasked with crafting a strategy to reach college students aged 18-25. Thirty-three ECU students are competing in the startUP Productions Marketing Challenge to promote zaahah.com – a social search engine – while another 25 students are working together to market the 2012 Honda Civic Coupe. Each team was given $3,000 to spend on the project.
“It’s something good to add to the resume and say I had this real world experience while I was in college,’” said Lynham, who serves as PR leader for the Honda project. “It’s kind of cool to see the concepts we learn in the textbook applied in real life. A lot of times you don’t get that out of a class.”
By the second class of the semester, students were already meeting with their respective clients.
“I was kind of shocked that a company like Honda was willing to let college students come up with a campaign for them,” Lynham said.
“Honda’s really trying to put some youth back into the brand,” explained Steven Szabatura, a district sales manager in Honda’s automobile division who supplied a car for display. “Getting on campuses, getting students involved and seeing the vehicles, getting the students while they’re young before they have that money to spend, that’s the key time to capture your audience.”
Kate Nelson, a senior marketing major from Raleigh, also sees benefits in working with an unknown business like zaahah.com.
“It could be the next Bing,” she said. “We could jump start a brand new company that could be up there with Google or Yahoo or something. It’s still surreal.”
Nelson and her group have been additionally challenged to get 75,000 students registered by the semester’s end.
“I’m hoping we can do it,” she said. “I’m being positive.”
Winning campaigns will be announced in May and implemented by the participating companies. The students could earn up to $5,000 by placing first with Honda, and $3,000 for a top zaahah.com finish. EdVenture Partners will donate $1,000 to ECU regardless of the outcome.
Ashley hopes her students’ campaigns are received well by both companies, but she’ll be proud either way.
“The students have diverse talents and more creativity than I could have imagined,” she said. “Both groups came up with clever, creative strategies that reflect a thorough understanding of their target audiences.”
That creativity embodied the strange setup on display last week. Each tactic was considered most effective in building buzz and getting their peers interested in the products. A disc golf tournament, a campaign kickoff event at the North Campus Recreation Complex and a performance by a step team are still to come. And they’ve been promoting everything on Facebook and Twitter.
“The students are completing all of the functions of a real marketing agency, including research, strategy development, implementation, and post-campaign research/reporting, in 12 weeks, with sign-off from the client at each stage,” Ashley said. “The timeline is ambitious, and we are all learning as we go along, but the students have risen to the challenge.
“The ability to present their ideas to top executives at Honda and startUP Productions if they make it to the finals would really be an added bonus.”