An associate professor of business at the University of Rhode Island received a 2018 National Award for Innovative Excellence in marketing education.

To engage students and give them real-life experiences, Professor Christy Ashley came up with a project called “Fantasy Brands League.” Ashley found that the students in her strategic marketing management class, filled with mostly second-semester seniors, were already looking forward to the next step in the real world.

The project requires students to pick business brands from the top 100 international brands, and “draft” them. Individuals start with four brands and then advance to five. The idea came from her 13-year-old nephew, who participated in something similar for his geography class.

The students had to pay attention to the media for when their brands were mentioned. Ashley excluded brands such as Google and Facebook because the media attention they receive would be unfair to students who did not have them on their team. The students had to look for articles about their brands and their brands marketing strategies, as well as that of competing brands. If something negative happened to one of their competitors they were given a penalty.

Ashley found that this project engaged the students and allowed for more conversations on current events in the classroom.

“I could see what they were reading,” said Ashley. “We could bring those up in class discussions.”

She also found that students were more engaged with what was going on in class. Instead of bringing in examples from previous classes, they were bringing in current and relevant articles that mentioned their brands.

Ashley said that in previous classes the majority of the work was done in groups and some students did more work than others. With the “Fantasy Brand League,” each student was responsible for the same amount of work.

Dr. Hillary Leonard, another associate professor in the College of Business, believes that Ashley’s students benefited from her integrating research and current knowledge into the classroom.

“She brings her research findings and knowledge and a focus on discovery into the student learning process,” Leonard said. “Rather than simply reading about marketing best practices, students are fully engaging and translating “textbook” marketing to the real world. Taking her knowledge of what is currently being discovered about branding, Dr. Ashley seeks innovative ways for students to think and learn by discovering how brands are behaving in real time and the impact of those marketing actions with brands.”

Ashley liked the engagement the project provided between the students.

“The nice thing that I observed was students were talking to each other before class,” she said. “Sometimes students sit in there and listen to music or they are on their phones, or they’ll be texting each other. They would talk before class, if someone was getting a lot of points in the league they would say, ‘Ok, I’m going to give them this negative news and you can give them that negative news.’”

Ashley said that the feedback she received from students was mostly positive, and they enjoyed the competitive aspect of it. She plans to do this project in her strategic marketing management class again.