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Pitt marketing majors compete in national competition

Courtesy+of+Alexis+Bovalino
Courtesy of Alexis Bovalino

Courtesy of Alexis Bovalino

Courtesy of Alexis Bovalino

By Janine Faust / Staff Writer

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Rebecca Anne Feinberg, a self-proclaimed gearhead, was thrilled when she learned that her Projects in Marketing class was participating in a competition designed around a luxury sedan.

But she confessed that marketing the luxury car to millenials was a much harder task than she’d envisioned.

“Most young people, they use Uber or Lyft if they live in a city,” Feinberg said. “And most aren’t thinking too much about purchasing a car yet, so there’s not much interest to begin with.”

Feinberg is a senior marketing major currently enrolled in Projects in Marketing, a class of 22 marketing majors who are invited or considered through applications to be in the class. They have been competing alongside 20 other schools, including Johns Hopkins and the University of Michigan, in the Acura ILX Marketing Challenge since September.

The goal of the challenge which the car company Acura is sponsoring is to increase millennial awareness and interest in the Acura ILX, a luxury sedan. For the challenge, Projects in Marketing chose to brand themselves as “Pros in Motion” with the slogan “Aim Higher.”

Alexis Bovalino, a senior marketing major and head of the team’s public relations department, said the phrase is meant to target millennials’ aspirations.

“People our age are aiming to get good careers, to change things for the better and to be successful in general,” Bovalino said. “So we figured the theme of aiming higher would attract their attention.”

EdVenture Partners, a company that connects marketing students to businesses that engage with younger generations, usually facilitates the marketing competitions Projects in Marketing participates in each semester. On a few occasions, the class has turned to work independently with organizations, such as the Pittsburgh Pirates and Fox Sports, but this semester, the students have chosen to compete in EVP’s marketing competition.

Robert Gilbert, a Pitt associate professor of business administration, has been teaching Projects in Marketing — a class he founded — every fall and spring for more than 10 years. Past clients of the class have included the Central Intelligence Agency, the U.S. Navy and Chevrolet.

“We’ve got an incredible track record,” Gilbert said. “I estimate we’ve been a finalist or a winner in at least 11 previous competitions.”

The class has been operating as an independent advertising agency since September, using $2,000 from Acura as well as donations from local businesses to run a marketing campaign. Their campaign focuses on the ILX and will also provide Acura with data that shows what millennials look for in cars and how best to reach them through advertising.

According to senior marketing major Grant Jacoby, head of the class’s campaign team, Pros in Motion chose to focus on the ILX to attract students, in part by holding an event in the quad on campus early this month.

The quad was filled with live music, giveaways from local restaurants, games and two Acura ILXs provided by a local Honda dealership. One of the cars’ trunks was filled with donations to the Pitt Pantry, and in the other, people could sing car karaoke with Pitt Tonight host Jesse Irwin. Another “junk” car was there to be covered with Post-it notes with statements made by event attendees on how they plan to “aim higher.”

“We spent a whole month obtaining the materials for it, asking local companies to donate to raffles and figuring out who’d be running what,” Jacoby said.

Feinberg, head of the non-traditional advertising team, said her team is responsible for coming up with out-of-the-box ideas for advertisements, while the traditional team handles methods such as billboards and posters. One way in which the non-traditional team sought to bring attention to the campaign was through funny videos.

“We produced [the] “Pitt Professors Read Mean RateMyProfessor Reviews” video to initially get millennials interested in our campaign for the ILX since humor is something they respond pretty strongly to,” Feinberg said. “[The video] got over 3,000 views on YouTube.”

Katie Cleveland, a senior marketing major at Pitt and head of the research department for the team, collected information through surveys intended to gauge college-age consumers’ views and existing knowledge of the ILX.

“Our pre-campaign survey found that perception and awareness of the ILX was not very high prior to the campaign, but results from the post-campaign survey have found that they’ve increased significantly,” Cleveland said. “We’re happy that the data’s shown that our work made an impact.”

Besides surveys, the research department also conducted focus tests using the Zaltman metaphor elicitation technique — or ZMET — in which people are asked to express their feelings on a topic through pictures.

According to Cleveland, the research team recruited 13 people for the ZMET test, asking them to bring in images that represented their attitudes toward cars and car buying.

“One of the boys we surveyed, he showed us a picture of Timberlake’s 20/20 album cover and another of a dog cuddled up in a blanket,” Cleveland said. “Meaning he wanted his car to make him not only feel and look cool but also keep him comfortable.”

Pros in Motion submitted its final presentation, a 30-slide PowerPoint summarizing the work the students have been doing all semester, to Acura on Nov. 28, and the car company will choose the top three teams out of 20 by Dec. 3.

If the team is selected as a finalist, five to six members of Pros in Motion will travel to Los Angeles to represent Pitt and present their work to Acura executives, who will consider the ideas the team implemented and the data they collected to support their own campaigns.The overall winners receive $5,000, which goes to their school.

Feinberg said the experience Projects in Marketing provides is worthwhile, as it grants hands-on experience and looks good on a resumé — no matter the end result of the competition.

“It’s the first group project I’ve worked on that’s never given me a headache,” Feinberg said. “Even if we don’t get to go to L.A., even if we don’t get the prize money, it will be totally worth it. Making it into this class was the best experience of my life.”

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Pitt marketing majors compete in national competition