Marketers are finding a shortcut to getting inside college students' heads: getting inside college classrooms.
This year, American Honda Motor Co. teamed up for the first time with EdVenture Partners of Orinda, Calif., and made Honda's youth-oriented Element the focus of marketing and advertising courses at 28 colleges.
Dozens of Element campaigns were executed on campuses by students. More than 750 students acted as brand agents for Honda while earning college credits and reached thousands more students during the spring semester. Each class received $2,500 and input from Honda executives to develop a campaign.
Some classes boosted the media value of their efforts to as high as $50,000 with donations from local TV and radio broadcasters, says Tony Sgro, EdVenture's CEO.
Honda executives narrowed the field to 10 finalists, and teams from three winning schools presented their campaigns at Honda headquarters two weeks ago.
The presentations were heard by top marketing and operations executives, along with dealers and Honda's advertising agency, Rubin Postaer & Associates of Santa Monica, Calif.
"The biggest thing we learned was how to communicate better with this tough audience," says Tom Peyton, Honda's senior manager of marketing. "There is no better way to learn how to talk to students than from students."
Citibank has hired EdVenture Partners for a similar effort at three schools each year since 2001 to promote credit-card awareness on campuses without actually marketing Citibank's credit cards to students.
Honda's effort is one of the widest so far to generate product campaigns on campuses.
Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. is poring over market research gathered by students during the American Advertising Federation's recent annual National Student Advertising Competition, which centered this year on Toyota's Matrix vehicle.
More than 4,000 students on 150 campuses developed marketing strategies for the Matrix. Although the strategies were not executed on campuses, Toyota executives are using insights from the top entries in their own market research.
"We got at least five ideas for promotions and using the Internet that we're going to implement," says Deborah Meyer, spokeswoman for Toyota Motor Sales.
"We also gained new insights into what college students think is important about the product, which we couldn't have gotten elsewhere."