Challenge to students: How would you run a marketing campaign?

After all the times a teacher told me to spit out my gum, it was nice to sit in a classroom listening to people urge me to chew more. The BrandLab was in session.

A creation of the Minneapolis agency OLSON, BrandLab is a non-profit educational organization that aims to expose marketing to students from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Each year, BrandLab employees and agency volunteers work with metro-area high school students and teachers, leading them through a curriculum that mimics the development of real-life marketing campaigns. Students who complete the course are eligible to apply for scholarships or internships.

Last week, I sat in on a session at South High School in Minneapolis as four account teams presented their research on a new campaign for Dubble Bubble gum. Their mission: bring adults in their 20s and 30s back to the gum they loved as kids.

The teams did their research, interviewing adults in the target population about their chewing habits and preferences. They created “mood boards” to help guide the tone of their campaigns and drafted creative briefs with their key messages. Later, they’ll progress to creating final print and radio ads.

“It’s nice to use your creative skills, instead of just reading a book and writing a report,” said Avonna Sanders, a junior, after her team’s presentation. Others said the course has helped them better understand the sea of marketing messages that surround them each day. And it’s also been something of a wake-up call for the demands of the workplace.

“It shows us the real world,” said junior Versha Donaby. “There are deadlines, there are details. You can’t just let things slide.”

Building connections
Ellen Walthour, BrandLab program director, said the goal is “to change the face of advertising to represent who we market to.

South High student Versha Donaby shows a "mood board" with images she collected to help her determine the tone of an ad campaign.
Courtesy of The BrandLab
South High student Versha Donaby shows a “mood board” with images she collected to help her determine the tone of an ad campaign.

“In this industry, it’s who do you know,” she said. “We’re trying to build connections, give students exposure to the industry. A lot of kids don’t realize that if you like to draw, you can make a career of it.”

In addition to South, BrandLab courses are being offered at North and Patrick Henry high schools in Minneapolis, Arlington High School in St. Paul and Kennedy High School in Bloomington.

Frieda Bormann, whose English class hosts BrandLab at South, said the students are amazed to learn the scope of the marketing industry.

“The whole financial thing overwhelms them,” she said. “How much people will spend on a commercial, how much of our GNP it represents.”

And it’s a way to get an often self-centered age group to look beyond itself, said Opal Singleton, a BrandLab instructor.

“We had a big blowup in class one day about who’s middle-aged,” she laughed. “They thought 25 to 34 years old was middle-aged.”

BrandLab welcomes volunteers and participation from other agencies. For more information, contact Ellen Walthour at

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