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Pilot program gives students in-depth look into advertising world

| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Business Management students Christian Harris (right), 17, and Dylan Thiel, 18, both of Penn Hills, laugh as they trade ideas during an 'AD-U' class at Penn Hills High School on Thursday, March 13, 2014. The 10-week program brings in industry professionals from Mullen Advertising to guide students through creating an advertising campaign from start to finish.

Joey Woods thought outside the lines while brainstorming with some of his Penn Hills High School classmates last week.

After he and other teens in teacher Victor Scassera's business management class split into three groups during an advertising program led by Mullen advertising executives, the students were tasked to come up with advertising concepts for Skittles candy and Beats by Dre headphones.

Woods suggested combining the advertising for the multi-colored candy and headphones, which come in various colors, into one campaign.

“Honestly, it just, like, popped into my head. What if while you, like, ate the Skittles, your Beats (headphones) would change colors,” said Woods, 17, a junior.

That kind of creative thinking is critical in advertising, Brian Bronaugh, president of Mullen, told the group.

“We gave you the rules. Now bend them,” he said.

Penn Hills High School is one of four middle and high schools participating in a pilot of an advertising program, AD U, in which Mullen teaches eight- to 10-week courses — one class per week — about advertising. Lessons in concept development, collaborative work, targeting an audience and the different parts of an ad agency are part of the program, Bronaugh said.

One of the goals is to help diversify the advertising industry by introducing the field to students before they are in college, when they've already decided what field they will enter, he said.

People featured in advertising content are more diverse in terms of race, sexual orientation and other backgrounds, but the people creating the content don't reflect that, Bronaugh said.

“It's changing, but it's changing slowly,” he said.

Some students were surprised by how entrenched advertising is in their daily lives without even being aware of it, said Joseph Lewis, who works in business development at Mullen and developed AD U.

“It's fascinating that these kids, they were literally bombarded by advertising in the industry and commercials their whole lives, but I don't know if they've given it much thought,” Lewis said.

AD U students will develop their own campaigns for fictional clients, Mullen said. High school participants will present completed campaigns to Mullen with the opportunity to earn AD U awards and honors.

Mullen is headquartered in Boston and has an office in the Strip District.

AD U is being taught at The Barack Obama Academy of International Studies in East Liberty, Penn Hills High School, Propel Charter School in the North Side and Urban Pathways Charter School, Downtown. The program at Propel includes students from several Propel schools.

Mullen would like to expand the program to more schools and teach it in the fall and spring, Lewis said.

“We anticipate bringing the kids in for a site visit, as well,” he said.

Last Thursday was Mullen's fourth visit to Penn Hills High School.

Senior Octavia Kirkland, 17, is enrolled in another session of Scassera's business management class, but she attended her first AD U class last week after asking to participate, she said.

“Just the creative aspect of it (is interesting). Before (Bronaugh) was even finished talking, I had already come up with a totally new commercial for Skittles,” said Kirkland, who is considering advertising as a career.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or

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