URI business seniors capture third in national Acura ILX Marketing Challenge

Media Contact: Tony LaRoche, 401-874-4894 |
URI marketing students
URI marketing students, from left, Anna Wespiser, Haley Martwichuck, Will Leviton, Jessica Swirson and Liz Potenzano pose with an Acura NSX after taking third in the finals of the Acura ILX Challenge in Torrance, Calif. Photo by Christy Ashley

KINGSTON, R.I. – June 10, 2019 – For a national marketing competition to promote a sporty luxury car, a class of University of Rhode Island business students challenged themselves and their target audience to “Level Up.” It proved to be more than just their slogan.

Students in Marketing Professor Christy Ashley’s Strategic Marketing Management capstone class shifted into high gear for the Acura ILX Marketing Challenge, crafting a successful campaign to increase awareness, perception and appeal of the Acura ILX among car buyers under age 30.

The class of 41 seniors finished third out the 20 schools selected to take part in the competition, including earning an invitation to the finals May 29 in Torrance, Calif., to present their campaign to American Honda Motor Co. executives. The University of New Mexico won first place in the challenge, and John Hopkins University took second.

“It was great that URI marketing students were recognized – again – as one of the top teams in the nation for demonstrating their abilities using a hands-on project for a client,” said Ashley. “This project had a real marketing budget, social media storytelling, and delivered real results.”

Class members Jessica Swirson of Rockway, New Jersey, Haley Hartwichuck of Beverly, Massachusetts, Will Leviton of North Providence, Rhode Island, Anna Wespiser of Townsend, Massachusetts, and Liz Potenzano of Midland Park, New Jersey, presented the team’s campaign to the judges in California. In a 20-minute presentation, the five described the team’s research and provided an overview of their strategy and tactics, including commercials, video of events and social media. The presentation also included their campaign’s results and recommendations for how to go forward.

Judges praised the team’s marketing theme – Level Up – along with how it was incorporated into the students’ campaign, and were impressed by the team’s adjustment from a national influencer to two on-campus influencers as part of their campaign, Ashley said.

“The students did a great job explaining how they brought their big idea to life using numerous touchpoints on campus in a cohesive way,” said Ashley. “They showed their personalities and had truly impressive results, including triple-digit growth in desired perceptions of Acura and purchase consideration of the Acura ILX.”

For the semester-long project, students formed the agency Rhody Performance Marketing, or RPM, and took on specialized roles that mirrored the work of a real marketing agency. They crafted graphic and radio ads, filmed commercials, created and maintained a social media presence, conducted pre- and post-campaign research, and evaluated their process throughout – adhering to a $2,000 budget and meeting Acura branding guidelines for all advertising.

As part of the campaign, the team also selected social media influencers – Miranda Lynn ’18, a Los Angeles-based model and aspiring actress with more than 13,000 Instagram followers, along with classmates Leviton and Potenzano – to help elevate the campaign and give it a greater connection to the URI community.

“This project was a lot of hard work and it was rewarding to see it unfold,” said Swirson, who headed the agency’s strategy and implementation team. “I feel as though our hard work paid off. I was able to get a lot of real-world experience out of this project that a typical class cannot offer, and gain it in a marketing agency setting.”

As head of the public relations team, Martwichuck embraced a leadership role, working across teams to ensure the success of the campaign.

“I also took on the role of PR team lead because I believed it would provide me with those soft skills that can’t be taught in the classroom,” she said. “We focused on creating and maintaining relationships with other clubs on campus as well as trying to encourage people to not just come out to our event but also to pay attention to our message.

“Our message of Level Up truly embodies who we are as graduating seniors,” she added. “Level Up means to never be satisfied with mediocrity and to always strive for the next level of greatness and success.”

This was the second year URI finished in the top three of the Acura Challenge and was invited to present its campaign to key Honda executives. In 2016, Christy’s class won the competition, which is organized by EdVenture Partners, developers of industry-education partnership programs.

Members of URI’s RPM team

Agency coordinator: Lauren Burgess, Narragansett, R.I.

Public relations: Haley Martwichuck, Beverly, Mass. (department head); Nicholas Angell, Chepachet, R.I.; Karli Baker, Warwick, R.I.; Allie Behnke, Montclair, N.J.; Braelyn Demitrieus, Hauppauge, N.Y.; Lilly Gallaher, Lagrange, N.Y.; Jennifer Gillings, Staten Island, N.Y.; Haley Kardon, Sandwich, Mass.; Michelle Kutsyk, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Max Michowski, Toms River, N.J.; Hailey Rocks, Beacon Falls, Conn.; Anna Wespiser, Townsend, Mass.

Strategy and implementation: Jessica Swirson, Rockaway, N.J. (department head); Maxwell Chiron, Westport, Mass.; Arthur Mello, North Providence, R.I.; Scott Messing, Westfield, N.J.; Megan Meyer, Newtown, Conn.; Paulo Palrao, Coventry, R.I.; Dean Patulak, North Grafton, Mass.; Matthew Perugini, Barrington, R.I.; Hannah Sauter, Mendham, N.J.

Advertising: Mckenzie Knapp, Ramsey, N.J. (department head); Nicholas Buckley, West Greenwich, R.I.; Joe Cicchetti, North Kingstown, R.I.; Jaden Coppola, Madison, Conn.; Jonny DeAngelis, Medfield, Mass.; Katherine De Tora, Pearl River, N.Y.; Molly Leary, Barrington, R.I.; Will Leviton, North Providence, R.I.; Tim Moomey, Mansfield, Mass.; Mike Moreschi, Mahopac, N.Y.; Miles Mosby, Lambertville, N.J.; Mike O’Leary, Wethersfield, Conn.; Liz Potenzano, Midland Park, N.J.; Courtney Sheridan, Warwick, R.I.; Madeline White, North Kingstown, R.I.

Research: Kyle Schiess, Clinton, Conn. (department head); Paige Ackerman, Washington Crossing, Pa.; Jose Hernandez, East Greenwich, R.I.; Emma Shields, Greenlawn, N.Y.