Ad agency educates teens about online advertising

Students at the English Montreal School Board's MIND High School learned a lot about digital marketing from of a local company



An experimental collaboration between a Montreal ad agency and an alternative high school to teach teens the ins and outs of online advertising is garnering kudos from students, educators, and marketing industry insiders.

Teachers at MIND (Moving In New Directions) High School approached Bloom, a small independent ad agency based in St. Henri, about developing a curriculum to teach teens to think critically about advertising as well as learn how advertisers use digital marketing platforms such as Facebook to persuade, promote and, sometimes, deceive.

Sam Lalonde, a marketing strategist at Bloom, said in contrast to traditional advertising, online ads are often designed to be hard to tell apart from editorial or social media content. On top of that, he said students are often unaware of the many ways advertisers use the data they share on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media platforms to fine-tune ad targeting. “We wanted students to have a better understanding of how the online world works, while building skills that are useful in the workplace as well as in life,” Lalonde said.

Students were taught the basics of digital marketing, with the aim to strengthen skills like communication, creativity, management, entrepreneurship and critical thinking. They were then challenged to use these ad platforms to promote their school, which has been facing declining enrolment over the last decade.

Working in teams, students were asked to choose a target demographic, create marketing material and develop their own ad copy and imagery. Each group was given $30 to run their campaign online and then presented the results.

“In the end, they came away with a better understanding of how advertisers target people online,” Lalonde said. He added that the students surprised him with their well-spoken presentations and credits this in part to the creative freedom of expression promoted at the school.

According to the English Montreal School Board, the pilot project was successful in increasing student engagement and attendance, and is expected to be offered in up to five more high schools next year. It also caught the attention of Bloom’s peers in the marketing industry; the agency is nominated for a Philanthropist of the Year award at the Bing Agency Awards in New York in recognition of the pro-bono contributions of staff on the project.

Bloom was one of six agencies shortlisted for the award from a pool of 134 nominees located throughout North America and Brazil. It was the only Canadian agency shortlisted for the philanthropy award.

MIND, founded in 1975, is a small school for grades 9-11 that promotes an individualized approach to learning. It is currently operating out of a temporary location at Marymount Academy International in N.D.G.

For more information, visit emsb.qc.ca/mind.

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