Instead of the usual integrated marketing class project of selling a specific, tangible product — like, say, a car — one class at Johns Hopkins University is selling something a little more difficult: an end to extremism.
The 39 students in the advertising and integrated marketing communications class took on this big goal — competing with schools across the country to impress the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — with the slogan, “We Welcome.” From early research, the class found that people who felt isolated were more likely to be open to extremist views, with 16 percent of those they surveyed saying they had been contacted by someone promoting extremist rhetoric. This is how the inclusive slogan was born, said Shirley Wang, a Hopkins junior and one of the public relations managers for the project.
“We realized it was a very sensitive topic,” she said, “and we really had to navigate it carefully.”
The three weeks of implementation for the campaign culminated last week, which included five events around campus, lots of social media posting, giving away branded products (such as stickers and fortune cookies) and videos.
The events included a pre-lacrosse game tailgate, a cultural dance concert, one with drinks from around the world, another with desserts and a final event partnering with the Hopkins dining hall’s global tastes program, which will feature food from a certain cultural region.
“They all went really well,” said Gabby Liflander, a Hopkins junior, active Hillel member and the events coordinator for this campaign. “We’ve gotten some really good feedback. People have said they’ve really enjoyed learning about other cultures.”
Liflander went on to say they averaged about 100 sign-ups per event but certainly interacted with more students than that, judging by the fact that all 1,200 stickers they had made are gone.
Seeing those stickers around has been really gratifying, said Jazmin Gelbart, co-CEO for the campaign.
“It definitely came together,” she said. “From the inside, it felt like chaos, but from the outside it was really put together. People told us they were really impressed.”
The group’s Facebook page, We Welcome Whys, has about 250 likes, and its several videos have thousands of views. The group is pretty pleased with the social media impressions overall, Wang said.
With only three weeks, the students know they aren’t actually going to end extremism, but they still felt they had done something important, even if it was just starting conversations.
“Our intention was to say, ‘we’re noticing the differences, but the differences don’t matter,’” Liflander said. “Everyone’s bringing a different version of the same thing to the table.”
The students now will under- take the post-campaign survey and see how effective their campaign was and submit a final report. If they place among the top three in the competition with other schools, they will present to DHS officials in July.
Even if they don’t make the top three, the students still feel they gained worthwhile experience.
“I think it’s been really amazing,” Gelbart said. “Most class projects you’re working with three to four people, and here it’s 39 people working
toward the same goal. It was really difficult, but it was [also] really rewarding.”