Marketing class researches soft drink line

Three basic marketing classes are currently finishing up a project with Coca-Cola that gives the company feedback about university students’ soft drink preferences and uses GW’s campus as a testing ground for new marketing ideas.

The 120 students in Marilyn Liebrenz-Himes’ courses have been researching, surveying and testing the response to Mad River, a fairly new line of soft drinks that Coca-Cola recently bought, since the beginning of the semester. They plan to finish up their project at the end of this week with in-class presentations to Coca-Cola representatives from Atlanta and New York.

For the final project, students were given a “hypothetical” $1,000 to come up with marketing plans to promote Mad River products to college students.

“It’s a real world application that challenges students,” said Liebrenz-Himes, who conducts a project with an outside company every semester. “The students face marketing challenges they would face in the real world. They are taking (work) out of the textbook and putting it into practice.”

Class members first did background research and a student survey about Mad River before hosting a two-day “tasting event” in J Street at the end of October. The class then followed up with a post-event survey that studied the types of drinks students prefer.

The Coca-Cola representatives at the presentation will give the students feedback and additional ideas about their plans. Representatives may use some of the students’ ideas to target students on university campuses.

Junior Paige Guedri, who works as GW’s Coca-Cola campus representative, said her position was created because corporate executives are “worried about the fact that universities are such a huge market and feel student representatives (like herself) will allow them to market in a more effective way.”

Guedri said she collects information for Coca-Cola so the company can gauge its marketing strategies for students at different universities.

Guedri also said the project has helped increase Coca-Cola sales on campus. Because of suggestions from the class, new products such as Diet Vanilla and Diet Cherry Cokes have been brought to campus.

“(Coca-Cola) wanted us to dip into real students and to see what they wanted,” she said.

Guedri said she approached Liebrenz-Himes with the Mad River idea this fall after taking a class with the professor last year. Guedri said she needed help with the project and thought the class might be interested.

Ali Brenner, a junior in the class, said the course was a great learning experience.

“It’s beneficial, especially for an introduction class. It gives you a better sense of what marketing is all about because you get to promote a real product and work for a major company,” Brenner said. “It’s cool that (Coca-Cola) may actually take our advice.”

She said more opportunities like this will give students the chance to get more experience in their fields.

Liebrenz-Himes said Coca-Cola has been “really great with the kids, really responsive and has really made project work.”

In the past, students in her marketing class have worked with

companies such as Calvin Klein Jeans, Revlon, Proctor & Gamble andPontiac Aztec.

The projects from other years were similar to this year’s, but some used on-campus test subjects and some used off-campus test subjects.

“Before Washington’s new Sofitel Hotel opened, our MBA students presented marketing strategies to hotel management,” said Robert Moll, director of School of Business and Public Management Communications.

Liebrenz-Himes said marketing plan projects have led to student internships and jobs in some cases.

Last spring, one student was offered a public relations job through a project her class did with the Peace Corps.

“The students come out with a sense of a marketing plan to show employers,” Liebrenz-Himes said.

Moll said working with local businesses and multi-national corporations prepares students for life outside of the classroom.

“Experimental learning projects are commonly done at both the graduate and undergraduate levels,” Moll said. “They help students learn essential business skills such as how to work in teams, how to apply real-world knowledge to real world situations and how to interact with clients.”

The project finishes up this semester, ending with in-class presentations on Thursday and Friday.

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