When students, staff and faculty were forced to adjust and respond to the changes brought on by COVID-19, Assistant Advertising Professor Kathy Mueller quickly brainstormed and executed a final project idea for her Art Direction 1 students that incorporated both the lessons of the class and circumstances surrounding COVID-19. Students in her spring 2020 semester class were required to design a possible crisis brand initiative for an established brand of their choosing that helped spread positivity to customers and community members during the pandemic. By all accounts, the final project — which Mueller researched and created from scratch — provided students with an understanding of how advertising art directors operate in the real world.

Mueller wanted to root the project in the ethical stance that brands have a responsibility to serve their customers and pour their support back into communities. She based this position in research she conducted on advertising best practices, which were largely based on the Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Brand Trust and the Coronavirus Pandemic. This research report details how brands are expected to deal with the pandemic through the lens of customer and community outreach. 

From the report, Mueller gleaned best practices for students to follow for the project: brands showing up to do their part, a focus on solving over selling, using brands' power to educate communities, partnering with relief agencies and figuratively bringing people together. She notes that advertisers have similar responsibilities to news media in keeping the public informed. Class discussions related to the project allowed students to critically converse about the power of advertising all while examining real-life examples of positive crisis brand initiatives.

"I try to really develop our students into ethical practitioners that think about these things, that think about the power that they wield as advertising professionals. We influence the culture, we influence people's perceptions and ideas and help shape worldview," she says.

Students were receptive to this point of view and had varying ideas for crisis brand initiatives. Bridgit Donoghue, a rising junior advertising student, used a company close to home. Her final project focused on regional Goodwill locations partnering with Bridge Academy and Community Center, located in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, to redistribute donated clothes. Her set-up made the final project feel more relatable.

"I thought it was great just because it was really the most realistic project I felt that we did that really reflected what we would do as art directors in the future," Donoghue says.

In written statements, students Lilian Broyles, who centered her final project on Panda Express supporting the Asian community by bringing attention to A3PCON and UPRISERS which are organizations that work against xenophobia; and Amanda Nguyen, who focused her final project on Travelocity virtual tour campaigns that partner with museums all over the world, discuss their appreciation toward the final project.

"My inspiration for the project was the hate crimes and harassment against the Asian community," says Broyles, a rising junior advertising student. "The issue has received little recognition or solutions from mass media, therefore I thought the optimal solution would be utilizing Panda Express's brand to show support and spread information so their audience can better recognize and empathize with Asians. As an Asian American and Chinese adoptee, I feel compelled to tell this story because it is almost like a personal attack against my identity as well."

Nguyen, a rising senior advertising student, looked toward the ways the pandemic is affecting art communities and organizations. "I was inspired by seeing the creativity and works of arts that came from this quarantine, and one of the biggest representations of creativity are museums. I wanted to come up with a way to give back to the arts and culture industry while promoting museums from around the world," says Nguyen.

Mueller hopes that the final project "had some therapeutic value" for students. She believes that creativity goes a long way in helping to alleviate stress associated with the circumstances surrounding the pandemic.

Visit Flickr to view the completed final projects mentioned in this article.
Header image by Lilian Broyles