Comm Arts Student Succeeds in National Marketing Competition

A team of five UW-Madison students, including Comm Arts major Emily Christopher, has been selected as one of three finalists in a nationwide marketing competition sponsored by American Eagle Outfitters (AE), a prominent clothing retailer with over 930 stores in North America. Each semester, AE offers a marketing case competition that focuses on a different aspect of business, designed to provide students with real world professional experience and an opportunity to showcase their knowledge and creativity. The top three teams from across the U.S. are flown to Pittsburgh to present their marketing campaign to AE’s top executives at the company’s corporate headquarters. The winning team wins $5,000 (to be split among the student participants) and gets their names illuminated on AE’s Times Square video billboard. Some or all of their plan will also be implemented in company strategy.

This semester, student teams were asked to develop a brand-building campaign that created a comprehensive, “360° music strategy” aimed at 20-year old college students. The competition consisted of 41 teams from 12 universities. At UW-Madison, the program was run through the Kohl’s Center for Retailing Excellence in the School of Human Ecology. The Center had four teams in the competition. Emily’s team consisted of herself and co-leader Shari Franey along with Molly Segall, Maya Zinn, and Rachael Snediger (all of whom, besides Emily, are retailing majors, though most have studied in Comm Arts classes as well). They were assisted by advisors Lindsay H. Garrison, a PhD candidate in Comm Arts, and Nancy Wong, the faculty director of the Center for Retailing Excellence. The team presented their plan to a group of AE marketing executives on campus during the Fall semester, placing first out of the UW-Madison teams. They went on to be named one of the three national finalist teams in mid-December, alongside teams from Miami University and the University of Pittsburgh.

The students were challenged to come up with a music strategy that would “define what music should mean to the American Eagle brand,” as well as “enhance brand loyalty” among its college-aged customers and “establish music as a core component of the overall marketing mix – creative, content, and programming.” Emily’s team, dubbing themselves “Team Lucky Bucky ’77,” constructed a “throwback music” strategy that embraced popular music of the early- to mid-1990s. Their campaign drew on original market research to determine that most college students associate AE with their youth. They then made the case that AE should use this fact to its advantage by cultivating college students’ nostalgia and focusing on “retro” music that they grew up on, showing that "American Eagle is the sound of our generation."

The has team succeeded not only by applying concepts from business and marketing, but also by using skills acquired in their media and communications courses in Comm Arts. For instance, their plan incorporates new media services like Hulu and iTunes. In addition, Emily shot and produced a short video that her team used to kick-off their presentation – a tactic that the AE judges praised for being “relatable and interactive.” According to Emily, "I owe a big thank you to UW-Madison, which has offered me a truly incredible opportunity to build a career through its relationship with American Eagle. It's given me the chance to use my education in media studies, sociology, psychology, and marketing to critically think about brand development and the company-consumer relationship. This competition has given me confidence in my education-based intuition. The strategy is very bold and different, but we took a chance and it paid off."

Congratulations to Emily and her teammates, and best of luck to them at the final round of presentations in Pittsburgh later this month!

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