WMU advertising students win over Michigan dairy industry with professional-level consulting

Contact: Stacey Anderson

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Where do you go when you want to drink in fresh advertising ideas for your organization? Western Michigan University, of course!

The United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM) recently approached Greg Gerfen, instructor of marketing, to engage Western students in an advertising competition. The goal: to create a campaign that would establish dairy as a local, sustainable and healthy choice for Gen Z consumers as they begin to grocery shop on their own and  create their future eating habits.

Students from Western’s Haworth College of Business competed alongside teams from Grand Valley State University and Michigan State University. In total, six teams competed—two from each university. Western's teams took first and second place, sweeping the competition with their strategies about how to make dairy products a staple in the baskets of Gen Z consumers. UDIM representatives and their associated clients got a huge gulp of the creativity that WMU Haworth advertising and promotion students have to offer.

“The UDIM project provided me with a unique opportunity to get experience creating a campaign for a real client,” says student Anna Griggs. “The independence we were given to operate as our own small agency was amazing and helped all of us get a better understanding of so many concepts. I really enjoyed both the creative aspects of campaign creation as well as the data-driven side—proposing fun ideas and then gathering hard data to support why they would work was very interesting. I expect to be working on similar pitch decks in my upcoming career, and it was cool to get this experience now.”

The experiential learning opportunity united all the elements that Gerfen looks for in projects that give students a chance to apply their professional skills in real-world scenarios.

Dairy faces a diverse competitive landscape in many areas of the food and beverage market, according to Gerfen. These days, cow’s milk is up against alternative beverages such as almond, oat and coconut milks, as well as lower-protein animal milk options like goat’s milk. Protein shakes and sports drinks also provide further competition. UDIM is seeking to make dairy an active, regular choice for Gen Z consumers, and the complexity of both the market and forming a pattern of consumer behavior made it the ideal challenge for WMU business students.

Embedding the competition as a semester-long project in his Creative Strategy course, Gerfen coached students on applying what they were learning in the course to the real-world challenge UDIM had presented.

“Before advertising agencies develop the creative solutions that consumers see, they go through an immersion process of discovering all they can about the client’s business and competition, the marketplace and the consumer,” says Gerfen. “As the students learned the techniques and theories of creative strategy development, this competition allowed them to immediately put this learning into practice. They were able to uncover insights about the target audience and use those to develop creative programs that addressed the needs of the client. This opportunity motivated our advertising and promotion majors to envision what their future careers will be like.”

The first-place team, Spark Agency, was comprised of students:

  • Anna Griggs of Sterling Heights, Michigan
  • Jaden Hafner of St. Johns, Michigan
  • Holly Jemkort of Warren, Michigan
  • Karen Larsen of Iron Mountain, Michigan
  • Megan Taylor of Marion, Michigan
  • Ash Williams of Westland, Michigan
  • Hidde Rasenberg of Utrecht, Netherlands

The winning team conducted both quantitative and qualitative research among college students to explore insights about how dairy makes them feel, the emotions attached to dairy and how dairy can fit into their lifestyles. “They identified nostalgia as a promising area, as many students associate dairy with their childhoods and their families,” says Gerfen. “The concept that ultimately led to team Spark Agency’s victory was ‘Dairy takes you home, wherever that is.’”

The second-place team, Cowgirl Creative, was comprised of students:

  • Taylor Kennedy of Monroe, Michigan
  • Camila Mancera of Lawrence, Michigan
  • Nikki Miller of Monee, Illinois
  • Alissa Ramirez of Mokina, Illinois
  • Abby Schell of Portage, Michigan
  • Dana Wasmund of Brownstown, Michigan
  • Emily Woolf of Marquette, Michigan

The quality of the ideas and the final presentations from both WMU teams so impressed UDIM representatives that the organization invited both of Western’s teams to present at its Annual Board of Directors meeting on Thursday, March 16, noting that the WMU students performed at the level of agency professionals. Students on the WMU Haworth teams also split $1,750 in prize money.

“The ideas from this competition were incredibly creative and intriguing,” says Dwyer Williams, UDIM CEO. “The student insights gave us a myriad of points for the UDIM team to incorporate and adapt into experiences we can share with Generation Z—precisely what we hoped to gain from this partnership.”

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.