Honda goes back to school

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Marketers are finding a shortcut to getting inside college students' heads: getting inside college classrooms.

American Honda Motor Co. teamed with EdVenture Partners, Orinda, Calif., for the first time this year, making Honda's young-skewing Element vehicle the focus of marketing and advertising courses at 28 colleges, resulting in dozens of Element campaigns being executed on campuses by students.

More than 750 students acted as brand agents while earning college credit, reaching thousands more students during the spring semester. Each class received $2,500 and input from Honda executives to develop their campaigns, and some classes multiplied the media value of their efforts as high as $50,000, with donations from local TV and radio broadcasters, said Tony Sgro, EdVenture's CEO.

Honda executives narrowed the field to 10 finalists, and last week teams from three winning schools presented their campaigns at Honda headquarters before an audience of 100 including top marketing and operations brass, dealers and Honda's advertising agency, Rubin Postaer & Associates, Santa Monica, Calif.

better communication

"The biggest thing we learned was how to communicate better with this tough audience," said 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 Citi's credit cards to students. Honda's effort is one of the widest so far to generate product campaigns on campuses.

Toyota Motor Sales USA is also poring over market research gathered recently by students following the Washington, D.C.-based American Advertising Federation's 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, and although the efforts were not executed on campuses, Toyota executives are plowing insights from the top entries into their own market research.

"We got at least five ideas for promotions and using the Internet that we're going to implement," said Deborah Meyer, corporate manager-marketing communications for Toyota Motor Sales USA. "We also gained new insights into what college students think is important about the product, which we couldn't have gotten elsewhere."

The Chicago-based American Marketing Association, whose similar Collegiate Case Competition focused on Procter & Gamble's Pringles brand this year, says marketers are increasingly eager to work with corporations and there is no squeamishness about exploiting college students for corporate gain.

"It's a tight job market and professors are eager to give students real-life experience, and these relationships sometimes result in internships that can lead to jobs," said Nancy Costopulos, AMA's senior director-marketing and sales.

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