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Advertising students give their all to national competition

students working

When millennials talk makeup, you don't usually hear the words "Mary Kay" thrown around.

Young women want customization, trends, and online options with their makeup products -- not traditionally Mary Kay's strong points. But, the company decided to reach out to their target market for some suggestions with the National Student Advertising Competition, and USF Zimmerman Advertising Program students were on hand to help.

For more than two decades, USF has been sending students to the National Student Advertising Competition, which asks students to spend a year coming up with a multimillion dollar campaign for a national sponsor client. Last year, the sponsor was Glidden paint; in 2012, it was Nissan. The project gives students a chance to get real-world experience, find solutions for the client, and get feedback from people in the industry.

"Millennials are equipped with new technologies that connect them like never before," the students wrote in a plans book submitted to the competition. "Paired with the maturity of Mary Kay, millennials were unable to accept the brand based on their current model. We needed to create a brand that could not only survive, but also thrive -- as long as we kept it edgy and relevant."

The students presented a plan to develop a sub-brand for Mary Kay: "Thrive," a brand created by repackaging existing Mary Kay products, and one the team thought would appeal to millennials. They achieved their other goal, to bring the brand and its salespeople into the digital world, by re-branding consultants as "personal makeup stylists" and making them available by instant messaging or video chat. Although this year's student team did not place in the competition, their professors say the work they submitted was among the best projects they have ever seen -- including last year's National Student Ad Competition project, which came in second place by only 8/10 of a point.

"The team nailed it, but the judges just weren't keen on it," said Marketing Instructor Carol Osborne, who advises the students and has 20 years of experience in the advertising industry. "Our students went in with a bulletproof pitch: a solution that would answer Mary Kay's strategic objectives: awareness, brand image among women 18-25, and maintain their direct-selling model. It was truly brilliant, and even though it wasn't the winning strategy, my co-advisor Deb Smith and I, as well as the students, felt they delivered the right pitch. We all still believe in their work."

The students involved in the competition -- students from marketing, business advertising, and the School of Mass Communication -- received course credit and worked diligently for a year to develop the research, strategy, and design that they would incorporate into their pitch. Bree Palumbo, an advertising student and a member of the four-person presentation team, said she got more out of the competition than she ever expected.

"What I've learned and what I would put on a resume, more than an award, is that I learned about work ethic and putting everything you have into something," she said, noting that she and her classmates were usually on campus until 3 a.m. the month leading up to the presentation. "I stretched my mind so far beyond where I thought it could possibly go, and I learned a lot in that process. I learned that I can really do anything I pushed myself to do."

Steve Piskoty, another member of the presentation team, said the class prepared him for work in an agency better than any other class he had taken in his four years at USF.

"It's probably as close to the real world as we can get, so I'm definitely glad I did it," he said.