URI marketing class competes in national challenge to promote Honda’s Acura ILX

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Capstone marketing class pose around a 2019 Acura
Students in Associate Professor Christy Ashley’s capstone marketing class pose around a 2019 Acura ILX on April 18 during their chief marketing event for the national Acura ILX Marketing Challenge. URI is one of 20 schools taking part in the challenge. Photo by Randy Osga

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 23, 2019 – More than three dozen University of Rhode Island students in a capstone marketing course are building real-word experience through a national competition to promote a leading luxury car.

The 41 students in Associate Professor Christy Ashley’s Strategic Marketing Management class are competing against students from 19 other schools in the Acura ILX Marketing Challenge, organized by EdVenture Partners, developers of industry-education partnership programs, in connection with the Honda Motor Co. and its marketing agency, MullenLowe. In 2016, Ashley’s students took first place in the challenge.

Using a $2,000 budget from the program, the URI team, all marketing majors, must design, implement and measure a marketing campaign to increase the awareness, perception, and appeal of the Acura ILX among potential car buyers under age 30.

Jake Gulemi, left, and Jeffrey Urvater check out the Acura ILX
Jake Gulemi, left, and Jeffrey Urvater check out the Acura ILX during a student marketing event on the campus quad to increase awareness and perception of the Honda luxury car. Photo by Randy Osga

“This gives the students a boot-camp experience of working on an actual marketing campaign,” said Ashley. “They have a limited budget, a limited amount of time, limited resources, so they have to make trade-offs. They need to apply their skills in communication and teamwork, and their content knowledge in marketing. But the biggest difference I see with this kind of project is the need for problem solving. You have to analyze and fix and adjust and evaluate. You can’t say, ‘I made a plan, so I’m good.’”

The class has been divided into departments – public relations, advertising, research, and strategy and implementation – and the students have named their agency Rhody Performance Marketing, or RPM, and chosen the slogan “Level Up.”

In many ways, the project mirrors a real marketing scenario, says Ashley. Students have done primary and secondary research, looking into such topics as what Acura’s competitors are doing, customers’ purchase motivations, and an evaluation of the campus target audience’s awareness and perception of the brand.

Along the way, the students have created graphic ads and filmed commercials that have been shared on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, along with producing flyers that have been posted around campus and radio ads that have run on WRIU. All advertisements had to meet Acura branding guidelines and go through an approval process before they could be used. The team also held a full-day event on the campus quad on April 18, during which community members checked out the Acura ILX.

Lauren Burgess ’19, of Narragansett, Rhode Island, has served as agency coordinator for Rhody Performance Marketing, overseeing all departments, helping out where needed and sending weekly reports and metrics of RPM’s campaign to EdVenture Partners’ program coordinator.

“This class has helped me beyond anything I could have ever imagined,” said Burgess. “In the future, we are going to have times in our careers when we feel like something could be too challenging but I know every single person in the class will be able to persevere because they proved that in this class. I learned real-life marketing skills, how to succeed in teams, and how to lead successfully.”

Mckenzie Knapp ’19, of Westwood, New Jersey, has overseen the 15-student advertising department, which has created the ads and had them approved by Honda, contacted media outlets for ad placement and measured the success of the ads across media platforms. The project, she says, has been a learning process.

“We kind of got thrown into this,” Knapp. “It’s nice to see how we started out having to figure everything out, and then implementing what we’ve learned throughout these four years, and now what we can show for it.”

Jessica Swirson ’19, of Rockaway, New Jersey, led the team that implemented RPM’s April 18 event, during which hundreds of students stopped by to experience the Acura ILX. Swirson and her team promoted the event on campus, secured availability of the quad, and coordinated with the dealership to have the car on campus.

“I’ve done a bunch of events on campus and off,” says Swirson, whose internships have included putting on one of Hasbro Children’s Hospital’s largest annual fundraising events, The Heroes Ball. “The hardest part was getting the car and making sure it was allowed on the quad.”

After doing post-campaign research, the URI team will submit a final report to EdVenture Partners by May 1. Then, the top three teams will be invited to Torrance, California, to present their campaigns to Acura senior executives and leadership on May 29.

Other institutions participating in the Acura ILX Marketing Challenge are Boston University; California State, Fullerton; Clark Atlanta University; Florida International University; Indiana Institute of Technology; Johns Hopkins University; Michigan State University; Middle Tennessee University; New York Institute of Technology; North Carolina A&T; San Jose State; University of Central Oklahoma; University of Cincinnati; University of Houston; University of Massachusetts-Amherst; University of Nebraska at Lincoln; University of Pittsburgh; University of South Carolina, and University of Southern California.

For more information on the campaign, visit the Rhody Performance Marketing team’s website.