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Students take third in national advertising competition

June 15, 2010 By Stacy Forster

A team of UW–Madison students took third place in the American Advertising Federation‘s National Student Advertising Competition June 11 in Orlando, Fla.

The students were recognized for the strategic communications campaign they developed for State Farm Insurance, which provided the case study for this year’s contest: create a strategy to get young adults to purchase car and renter’s insurance. A group of 21 UW students developed the campaign as part of their senior-level capstone class in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication.

The group took the regional title at a competition in Minneapolis in late April, and a team of presenters competed against 18 other schools last week at the American Advertising Federation’s annual conference in Orlando. The federation is the premier professional organization for the advertising and strategic communications industry, and the competition is part of its student outreach programs.

The competing teams represented the top teams from regional districts around the country, says Debra Pierce, faculty associate in the strategic communications area of the journalism school. Some 150 colleges and universities had competed at the regional level.

Chapman University of Orange, Calif., won first place in the national contest, while Texas State University-San Marcos took second place and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln took fourth place.

As part of the insurance case study, the UW students created an integrated communication campaign following four months of qualitative and quantitative research and communications strategy development. The campaign included a media plan — complete with authentic television, radio, outdoor, print and Internet ads — and a 32-page, full-color casebook that described their recommendations. Their work was showcased in a 20-minute presentation to a panel of State Farm Insurance executives and representatives, as well as an audience of students and advertising professionals from all around the country.

“The judges were genuinely interested in how the campaign would work,” says Peter Zook, a team member who graduated last month with degrees in strategic communications and sociology. “It was as if they were about to offer us their business, but first they needed to clarify a few points.”

Debra Pierce, UW–Madison NSAC adviser and journalism school faculty member, says the UW–Madison team’s third-place finish shows the quality of thinking among top students in the communications-related fields across campus. The capstone class brings together students who are studying journalism, strategic communications, communication arts, marketing, art and graphic design, she says.

“Our students’ live presentation was delivered flawlessly, and the students got great feedback from the judges regarding the quality of their strategic thinking and on their advertising executions,” Pierce says.

Students are encouraged to use their critical thinking skills to address a real client problem with real-time industry tools and techniques, Pierce says. Because the class is structured like a real advertising agency, where students take on account, creative and media team roles, they must pull together as an entire team and develop award-winning work under tight deadlines, she says.

Zook says taking third place was “awesome,” but the students also feel they gained from what they learned in the course and the connections they made with each other, as well as those they met at the competition.

“We kept telling ourselves that no matter what place we took, we stand by our campaign, and feel good about all the decisions we made, even if some were a bit risky,” Zook says. “It’s advertising after all, and if you’re not taking risks and staying ahead of the curve, then you’re likely to be forgotten or unsuccessful.”