Only two or three students in professor Allen Smith's Principles of Advertising class at Florida Atlantic University had ever bought a car. More than a quarter were from foreign countries and most knew practically nothing about how car dealerships operate.
They were just the sort of young automotive outsiders that managers at Napleton Nissan & Kia in Riviera Beach, Fla., wanted to help shake up the dealerships' marketing plans.
Jay Buick, the stores' business development manager and a former adjunct instructor at Florida Atlantic, contacted the university's College of Business. Smith agreed to make Napleton the focus of a class project for the spring semester. The stores, in separate buildings on the same property with the same top managers, offered the students cash incentives totaling $1,500. The dealerships are part of the family-owned Napleton Automotive Group, which has 31 locations in Florida, Illinois and Missouri.
"One of the things they were looking for was to get inside the head of the next generation of car buyers so they could figure out what kinds of approaches might work better," said Jim Gray, who approved the project as chairman of the school's marketing faculty. "Some of the student ideas were a little bit off the wall, but some of them were right on the money."
The students, working in seven teams, spent 14 weeks developing campaign proposals and researching Napleton, its competitors and the auto industry. They presented their ideas to the dealerships' managers, who were so impressed that they incorporated some of the work on the store's Web site and plan to soon use a radio spot produced by the winning team almost verbatim.