MADISON, NJ -  Eighth grade students at the Madison Junior School (MJS) learned last month what it was like to pitch their advertising ideas to a panel of marketing executives, who were actually parents from town.

As part of the Language Arts curriculum, MJS teachers Danielle Mack and Caitlin Young created an assignment designed to teach the art of persuasion. Students were to imagine themselves as employees of an advertising agency tasked with pitching and defending their ideas to a chewing gum company looking to increase sales.

Mack and Young gave each team a sample of gum -- available at any local drugstore, but stripped of all identifying packaging -- and worked with each team to create a target audience profile, name, logo, and television commercial storyboard that captured the essence of the gum and made an emotional connection. The students were then to explain and defend their decisions to the “professionals” in their presentations, which took place not in a classroom but a closed-door conference room at MJS -- just like in a real-life pitch.

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“I am so proud of my students for working so hard on this project,” said Young. “It’s amazing to see the progression of the presentations. They have come really far in a short amount of time.”

Students dressed the part of advertising executives, wearing heels and ties. They walked into the conference room with props, such as fruit, original 3D-printed gum packages, and product samples, and made sure to properly interact with their audience throughout their presentations.

A highlight of the project was the panel of marketing executives, who were actually parent volunteers from town. One parent, Patrick O’Connell, is Vice President for Development at the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. Another parent, Jim Conroy, is a professional actor who has appeared in approximately 2,000 television commercials over his career, adding another level of realism to the project.

“The kids seemed to have a real grasp of the process and it was a good forum to showcase a number of skills that are crucial to the advertising world,” said Conroy.  “I was surprised by how good some of the storyboards were, and a couple of the presentations I could easily see taken into a complete campaign.”

Some of the names and taglines the students came up with included, “Bold -- Change the Game,” “Splash -- Follow Your Own Path,” and “Zeal -- Fuel Your Fire.”

“One of the beneficial qualities of the task was providing some of our students an opportunity to utilize creative talents they do not always get to exhibit in a language arts class,” said Mack.

Another component of the assignment included the creation of a social media campaign. One campaign for “Boundless” gum tapped into consumers’ desires to break certain social boundaries and connect to one another via secret motivational messages on each individual piece of gum, which could then be photographed and shared on Instagram.

“The gum project helped me to see what a job might look like in the future,” said one student. “It was challenging but a good experience overall.”