Student pitches wow judges in Grant Dobson Case Competition

From reconnecting post-pandemic to gamifying sex education to reliving youthful memories with a few thousand friends, the top pitches at this year’s Grant Dobson Case Competition took creativity to new heights.

The 2021 Dobson Case competition, held virtually on Thursday, Nov. 18, challenged teams of Brock students to “develop gamified marketing tactics and to drive sales for personalized candies amongst Gen Z consumers,” says Associate Professor Karen Louise Smith in the University’s Department of Communication, Popular Culture and Film (CPCF).

Working to a brief that required at least three gamified marketing tactics rolled out over the course of one year, teams went to work developing memorable campaign names and marketing plans using techniques such as targeting influencers, planning post-pandemic events and creating augmented reality filters and interfaces on platforms with the strongest Gen Z base.

Teams submitted written pitches to a panel of faculty organizers, who selected the top three contenders. These three teams then set to work on video campaign pitches, which were reviewed by the judging panel in advance of Thursday’s virtual event, during which each team faced targeted questioning by four industry experts:

  • Hilary Caters, President and Founder of Caters Design Group
  • Lynn Fletcher, Founding Partner of Fletcher Weir Consulting
  • Peter Shier, President of Naked Creative Consultancy
  • Mark Smyka, Marketing and Advertising Consultant

Owen Angus-Yamada and Syed Zarif Samdani, both graduate students in the Goodman School of Business, teamed up to present “Plinko for the People.”

Their pitch capitalized on the nostalgic bent, social consciousness and social-media savvy of Gen Z by developing new, candy-centred digital and tangible versions of the classic game from The Price is Right, through which players might win discounts or drive corporate donations to fundraising campaigns of their choice.

The concept and pitch left the judges impressed, and ultimately yielded Angus-Yamada and Samdani the competition’s top prize.

“Winning this competition means a lot to me, since this will be my last business case competition as an MBA student and I was able to showcase my creativity in front of so many industry leaders and academic scholars,” says Samdani. “After competing with so many brilliant teams, I am honoured to receive this accolade and I am glad to be part of this year’s Dobson Case Competition.”

Angus-Yamada also received the Mark Smyka Oustanding Presenter Award in what the judges described as a very tough field. He says he appreciates the honour even more after seeing the excellence of his teammate and his fellow competitors.

“Most importantly, I feel grateful,” he says. “Winning an award of any type is so much more than a single individual’s accomplishment, so whenever I succeed at anything, I think of all of people — faculty, staff, students, event organizers and sponsors — who helped set up experiences for me, giving me a chance to develop my skills.”

Coming in second place were fourth-year Business Communication students Naomi Barber and Mackenzie Rockbrune, whose pitch, “After Dark,” focused on using playful and edgy marketing, influencer reach and the development of augmented-reality games on TikTok and Snapchat to appeal to sex-positive Gen Z and increase corporate responsibility in promoting sexual health and education.

“It was a great experience overall and a great opportunity,” says Barber. “It was really nice to put the knowledge I’ve learned in courses throughout my four years at Brock into a more real-life scenario and pitch those ideas, as well as see the creativity of my peers.”

Rockbrune adds that mobilizing the knowledge built up throughout the program — and doing it in front of industry professionals on a tight timeline in a competitive environment — was an exhilarating challenge.

“It was fantastic to try out the quick-thinking skills needed in this professional industry,” says Rockbrune. “Another big takeaway was being able to hear the feedback and questions that leading professionals had about our pitch, raising issues I never thought about because they have so much more knowledge in the industry. That was really useful.”

The “Face 2 Face” campaign, which netted third place, was pitched by Glory Plume, Sam Pearson, Jack Ellsworth and Matthew Cancilla, four third-year CPCF students from the Business Communication and Film programs. Their team explored the longing of Gen Z to connect on a personal level, especially post-pandemic, by leveraging corporate social media accounts, connecting with up-and-coming influencers and installing design-your-own-candy booths in key cities.

Cancilla says his group learned a lot about how team dynamics can help a project level up.

“For our team, one of the largest takeaways from this case competition is what we learned about ourselves along the way,” he says. “We found that each one of our teammates brought something special to the group that helped us move forward within the competition, and we were able to greatly feed off of each other’s energy to create a campaign that we were proud of.”

Samdani describes the experience as a “roller coaster ride,” and Angus-Yamada agrees, noting how much preparation time went into the creation of the video pitch.

“Recording a presentation poses some differences and difficulties compared with in-person presentations — in-person, mistakes are normal and easily forgotten, but online they can be repeated as many times as the viewer wants,” says Angus-Yamada. “With that in mind, I must have spent at least five minutes for every one minute of recording, just practising my lines to make sure they were as close to 100 per cent polished as possible.”

But during the judges’ Q&A session, there was no time to prepare. Presenters had to think on their feet and find ways to explain their choices and respond to concerns. Their ability to field questions and illustrate their thinking impressed judges, spectators and peers alike.

“One of the things that we enjoyed most about the competition was seeing the work created by our peers during the competition and being inspired by their unique interpretations of the case and its components,” says Cancilla. “We all feel as if we gained greatly from this experience and look forward to next year’s competition.”

Competition sponsor Terry O’Malley was on hand to watch the students attempt to dazzle the judges, as were Barbara Wilson and several faculty members from CPCF and across Brock. Student emcee Cecily Zeppetella made the virtual crowd feel welcome and kept things running smoothly, while Owen Narhi and Brett Singleton from CPCF’s fourth-year internship course covered the event on social media.

For Smith and her fellow organizers — Tim Dun, Duncan Koerber, Michelle Chen, Kim Post and Tom Brown — building students’ confidence and professional understanding, as well as their sense of community, is what the event is all about.

“What I found most rewarding about this year’s Dobson Case competition was hearing the student competitors reflect on what they learned from watching their peers’ video pitches, and also from participating in the feedback session with the judges,” says Smith. “The collaborative and community aspects of this case competition event are what makes it a standout experience for Brock students.”

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