"Your target market is who we are, and we know how to reach us best," said Renu Roy, a student at Hawaii Pacific University, to an audience of advertisers, agency leaders and students attending the American Advertising Federation's National Advertising Conference.
The students were on hand to take part in the contest, sponsored this year by Chrysler. In all, 132 colleges and universities competed in 15 regions, and the winning teams were flown here to present their campaigns to a panel of judges, including Chrysler's VP-Marketing and Communications Arthur "Bud" Liebler.
The winning campaign, by Loyola University in New Orleans, presented the Neon as a dependable friend, while catering to an energetic audience's love for road trips with its "Taking you places" theme.
Chrysler volunteered to sponsor the competition-and was chosen by the AAF-even before the Neon was put on the market in early 1994.
"It seemed like such a perfect product to give to a student audience," Mr. Liebler said. "It's fun, it's cute, it's spunky, it's young. It's all the things we think kids would be interested in for a first car."
AAF President Wally Snyder said it was only natural for Chrysler to sponsor this year's contest because its product so obviously targets the people students know best-themselves.
Chrysler was "really looking for an opportunity to learn how to best market this Dodge Neon to a younger audience," he said. "It made so much sense to conduct this research on campus and see how students are responding to advertising."
Next year's sponsor will be the American Red Cross, the first non-profit organization ever to participate.
Students were assigned the task of developing an integrated marketing campaign, enabling Chrysler to gauge college students' response to the Neon and to build the brand among that audience. They were to identify market objectives, research students' perception of the Neon, and develop a full-scale media plan and creative product.
Students devoted hundreds of hours to their campaigns, and conducted surveys, focus groups and test drive outings at local dealerships. What the teams discovered about both the Neon and its target audience reaffirmed Chrysler's suspicions: Students hate being called Generation X and the "Hi" campaign originally created by BBDO Worldwide, Southfield, Mich., was a wild success.
"Everyone knew about it. That's what blew us away," said Shane Vaughan, a University of Idaho student.
The school won second place with creative featuring both superheroes and buffalo, intended to demonstrate the car's 132 horsepower and cab forward design.
Other teams tried to develop Neon's personality in hopes that students would relate and find a place for the automobile in their lives.
Loyola student Riza Ayson said the team surveyed many students who associated the Neon with a "windup toy." But after the group sponsored a "Say hello to Neon" day on campus, students' minds were easily changed. The Dodge dealer even sold one of the cars thanks to the event.
"That's the basis of our promotions," Ms. Ayson said. "Once students see the car and actually get into it for a test drive, they will buy it."
Chrysler now owns every aspect of the students' proposals, and although it is unlikely any of the teams' creative ideas will be used in the Neon campaign, some might be seen in on-campus promotions.
"The advertising business is all about big ideas," Mr. Snyder said. "I think somewhere in those students' proposals, [Chrysler is] going to find big ideas."