When students on the School of Communication’s National Student Advertising Competition team were tasked with targeting millennials for storied cosmetics brand, Mary Kay, they decided to take big risks, said Kelly Smith, B.S.C. ’14, a creative director for the team.  The team developed The Skinny Dip Challenge, a seven-day make-up free commitment to introduce millennial women to the brand’s skin care line.

“We knew going into nationals that our client, who is a very established and successful brand, might not bite on something a little more provocative and risky, but the idea really worked, so we all stood behind it,” Smith said. The innovative campaign paid off, garnering the team second place in the competition, its fourth top-four finish in as many years.

NSAC is an annual competition in which more than 130 student teams from universities and colleges across the country create campaigns for a single client. Students must research the product and its competition, identify potential problems and develop an integrated communications campaign for the client. Each student team then “pitches” its campaign to a panel of judges, over several rounds of the competition.

“The quality of the presentation, the campaign idea and the execution were absolutely the best I have ever worked on in NSAC,” said Professor Alyse Lancaster, adviser to the group and chair of the Department of Strategic Communication. “I would put it up against any agency campaign. That’s how good I think it was.”

The Skinny Dip Challenge included a portfolio of traditional creative materials but also eschewed many traditional techniques in favor of virality, playful edginess and a message that spoke clearly and authentically to the target audience, Smith said. The team knew that they would need to justify those risks to Mary Kay, so they tested the campaign, inviting women at the University of Miami to take The Skinny Dip Challenge.

“We had 100 girls who didn’t wear makeup and tried the skin-care line for 7 days, and they absolutely loved it,” said Alexis Plair, B.S.C. ’14, who was a strategy and media director for the team. “They were getting really into the challenge in ways we didn’t expect at all. It worked even better than we imagined.” Many of the participants went on to purchase Mary Kay products after the challenge, she said.

“I am just extraordinarily proud, because staying in line with the type of work that is being recognized at industry standards is what we strive for,” said Meryl Blau, an adviser to the creative team and an assistant professor in the Department of Strategic Communication. “The team didn’t just create some campaign and pick some traditional media to check off a list. We came up with a solution that was very specific and then used that creative to spawn this very innovative and very thoughtful placement of the campaign.”

The NSAC experience offers School of Communication students deep and valuable experience for cutting-edge careers in the constantly evolving advertising field, said Sean Pezzulo, B.S.C. ’14, who served as a creative director and who has been on the team for three years. “It’s the best real-world experience for advertising, because it puts you in a deadline situation and the stakes are high,” he said.

Pezzulo said the team’s campaigns often catch the eye of potential employers and can position UM’s advertising students well for jobs and internships. “I have already talked to advertising professionals on the content and the concept and everyone is really impressed with the quality of the production and the idea itself. It really sets us apart, because it proves that we will go above and beyond for our teams and our clients.”