Teaching Competitive Advertising, Post-'Mad Men'

The advertising industry is very competitive. Accounts move more frequently, and the need for strategic, creative and media solutions constantly evolves. How do educators teach these disciplines so that the future advertising staffs are ready, willing and able to compete?

Teaching through real-world examples and competitive team projects allow today's students to get their feet wet early in their education. Not just reviewing case histories, but actual implementation teaches students the dynamics of what really goes on in the advertising world. Cross-discipline learning becomes the crux of a comprehensive program in today's learning environment.

Agencies both large and small report that recent graduates with true work experience migrate to the top of the applicant pile. The agencies are lean and mean; they no longer have the resources for training programs that are usual in the "Mad Men" era.

Developing campaigns or projects in beginning advertising classes with industry pros visiting classrooms provides real-world insights. It also gives the industry a role in shaping the next generation. Participating in outside projects from distinguished companies such as GM, State Farm, PepsiCo, and Yahoo allows students to develop work that reaches their target demographic and provides hands-on experience.



More importantly, working on projects that reach older demographics stretches their thinking. Not everyone gets to work on video games when they graduate!

Those who work on the AAF and other competitions learn that the hours and months of teamwork required either develop a passion for joint action or the realization they aren't cut out for advertising.

Beyond the advertising skills developed, they learn interpersonal and team-building skills. Exposing others in the program or department to these competitive activities also fosters a level of excitement and responsibility that textbooks can't provide.

A recent industry trend is consumers creating advertising campaigns. In some cases, this has been successful, but it's time for the professionals to do what they do best: create solutions to marketing problems. The industry has changed; universities, to some extent, have taken on the role of training.

As other colleges have done, San Jose State University has created an on-campus communications agency, fashioned to fully integrate advertising and PR together as many firms are doing. For example, a writer of press releases also learns what copywriting demands. Strategic creative solutions need support in all forms of communications, whether written or visual. A variety of disciplines must be incorporated into the teaching dynamics: Web design, video production, online/mobile creative development, event planning and social media and placement.

How can this all be integrated into a teaching program? Participation in local, regional and national creative competitions is one way. SJSU participated in the recent Mountain Dew national competition in a beginning advertising class through an assignment given to teams of students. Students created a 12-second commercial for a new flavor from Mountain Dew that would be critiqued by a panel of outside professionals in the class.

Next, the top three winners would be submitted to the competition. A panel of national Dew enthusiasts pulled together by PepsiCo would determine three finalists -- one for each new flavor. Our "Whiteout" commercial was one of the three winners. As limited distribution of the product was initiated by PepsiCo, the three finalists were given actual production budgets to produce a 15-second version of their commercial that would then be voted on by consumers nationwide at a newly created Web site,

Together with Mountain Dew, the on-campus communications agency DB&H got the vote out. Promotions on campus with posters, PR stories and ads in campus media made everyone aware of the winning project and what was needed to help win at the national level. Team members integrated a national social-networking campaign. The voting continued for over two months, so reminders throughout the term of the contest were also fully integrated into the campaign. The result? Our "Whiteout" won the national competition: 44% to 40% from the next-closest competitor. It is the new product flavor.

Working with real clients is invaluable; it teaches the importance of psychology and interpersonal relations. Why did a client question a creative solution? How do we convince them that this is the best solution? Educators need to train students in a comprehensive manner to ensure that we provide that next generation of professionals.

1 comment about "Teaching Competitive Advertising, Post-'Mad Men'".
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  1. Joel Eisfelder, July 13, 2010 at 9:47 a.m.

    Congratulations to you and your students Tim. It would be great to see a case study of how DB&H put together the winning project. I agree that "crowdsourcing" can be a great tool, but just one in the toolbox for marketing professionals.

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