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Team’s VR headset campaign earns runner-up finish at national advertising competition

Liberty’s 15-member team with their runner-up trophy at NSAC

A team of Liberty University students put their abilities as skilled storytellers and Christian professionals on display during another successful showing at last week’s National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC) in Nashville, Tenn. The 15-member team finished runner-up to Texas Tech University and ahead of third-place University of California, Berkeley, among the eight collegiate national finalists.

Liberty’s team was made up of students from multiple programs within the School of Communication & the Arts, including strategic communication and digital media.

The NSAC is the premier college advertising competition, providing more than 2,000 college students the real-world experience of creating a strategic advertising/marketing/media campaign for a corporate client. This year, virtual reality company Meta Quest challenged 110 universities across the nation to create a fully integrated marketing campaign that would position Quest 2, a VR headset, as a college essential.

“The client provides teams with a brief outlining their communication challenges and the audience they want to reach through the development of an integrated marketing campaign,” said Caitlyn Richard (’17, ’19), an adjunct professor and advertising team advisor along with graduate assistant Daniel Scicchitano.

Before a single advertisement is created, the team spends the fall semester focused solely on research – analyzing the market, target audience, brand, competitor, and product. Research projects include everything from focus groups to thousands of national surveys, experiential product testing, ethnographic studies, and more.

The research results in key insights that inform the campaign’s central message and strategy. This year, the team’s strategy centered around positioning Quest 2 as the thing that takes people to the individual destinations they can’t arrive at in their current reality.

“The spring semester is where the campaign comes to life, producing digital, out-of-home, video, social media, traditional, and experiential advertisements to be present in their 20-minute client pitch,” Richard said.

“Everything we did was research-backed, and I think learning how to translate real data into something shown to the public was an amazing skill to learn,” said senior strategic communication student Collin Croom. “It’s probably been the most fun experience I’ve had, but it has also been the hardest. I’ve learned an incredible amount throughout this, and the relationships I built with the team were so important for me.”

Richard said the competition, which began last August, provides a real-life experience that is the closest students can get to the professional advertising world while still in college.

“Unlike a typical college course, where students receive a hypothetical marketing challenge, the NSAC provides students the opportunity to interact with a client who’s looking to them for a strategic marketing solution,” Richard said. “It prepares our students for what the client-agency relationship looks like in the industry and how to develop content that exceeds campaign objectives, not just a catchy idea.”

“I got to talk to a lot of people from ad agencies there, some of (whom) have been students in the competition before, and hearing from them how accurately you can transfer into the professional world from (NSAC) really opened my eyes,” Croom added.

The team went through three rounds on its nationals run, beginning at their district competition in Raleigh, N.C., and finishing in Nashville. The other five finalists Liberty competed against at nationals were Chapman (Calif.) University, East Tennessee State University, University of Kentucky, University of Minnesota, and the University of Oregon.

Croom noted that Liberty’s team was one of the smallest at nationals in terms of membership, with other schools having over 30 students each. It was also the first time any of its members had competed.

“It’s not about the number of people you have on the team, it’s what the people on your team are made of,” Croom said. “Everyone brought their best to the team.”

The Liberty team also took home the MRI-Simmons Inspired by Insight Award for the best application of research demonstrated in its NSAC presentation and plans book.

This year marked Richard’s fifth as team advisor, and she said that witnessing the students’ growth as industry professionals has remained a favorite part of her job.

“There was this moment in nationals, after we left the awards ceremony, ‘The people you are now, compared to where you were when we started, are so different,’” she said. “There’s been immeasurable growth in their professional abilities, character, and teamwork, and I’m honored to have been on that journey with them.”

Richard said developing students into Champions for Christ, in line with the school’s mission, is her goal, and she took time to speak with the team about how to approach their work in the secular world of advertising after graduation.

“As the advisor, I get to talk with them about what it means to be in the advertising industry, which is especially hard as a Christian, and we get to discuss how faith intersects with our work,” she said. “A prayer that the team has had consistently is that Christ is represented well with our work, that we radiate Him through this competition, and the other schools see that in us.”

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