The Responsibility and Social Entrepreneurship graduate course leads students to identify the agents of change in the industry, defines responsibility in the advertising field, and demonstrates how responsible advertising evolves into an agent of cultural change.
Dr. Sid teaches this course using the case-study method so that students learn the challenges and benefits of implementing a CSR strategy for a brand. More importantly, students apply studied concepts to a marketing problem faced by a real-world client. He explains: “personally, I enjoy teaching this class because social responsibility ties in with my research agenda (green advertising, domestic violence, etc.) as well as TAI’s mission of ‘Better Advertising, Better World.’ Furthermore, to teach students ‘strategic’ CSR and show how social responsibility can benefit the brand (not just financially), as well as its stakeholders, is truly satisfying. At one point CSR was a point-of-difference but now it has become the norm. However, the initiative’s success largely depends on how to integrate social responsibility objectives with that of the business. Trying to find that balance through unique ideas on a shoe-string budget is challenging but seeing the students’ creativity shine through the entire process is a great experience.”
Since graduate school, TAI Professor Suzanne Larkin has had a relationship with Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children and prototyped a program to aid learning for children with dyslexia. Professor Larkin got her Masters of Fine Arts degree in Visual Communication from Texas A&M Commerce (downtown Dallas), a program that combines Curriculum Development, Design Research, and Business.
“My inspiration came from a challenge as I was acquiring an MFA,” Professor Larkin said. “The challenge was to connect with a ‘giant’ and create something that could benefit them, and do what we call ‘move the needle,’ which means collect data that shows efficacy of what we do as visual communicators. In that challenge I kind of conducted a search, like what people do for thesis topic development. And that started with talking to others to find problems in major organizations where visual narratives or visual solutions could be beneficial. So part of my talking to people came out of tools that we use in the creative industry, like mind maps. I created maps to focus on who to talk to, and in which organizations. I kept running into the same response, and that was that children with dyslexia don’t have enough of the proper resources to help them grow at early diagnosis point, like 2nd and 3rd grade. I was inspired because I love to have fun in my work, and I like to do whimsical concepts. I used to design greeting cards. I’ve done radio, broadcast, outdoor, print. I’ve done it all in my career. So I thought this was a great opportunity to touch a target audience and provide something that hopefully benefits them.”
“I met with Karen Avrit, who is the Education Director,” Professor Larkin said. “We got together during therapy time and talked about what the patients were doing. I asked ‘Why are the children trying to read stories from text when they have reading challenges? Have they ever seen these stories?’ Of course, I’m thinking about this as a visual communicator because pictures say a lot. Karen thought that was a valid question since they didn’t have a visual representation of the fluency stories.”
At that point Ms. Avrit and Professor Larkin realized that there could be a way of using visual narrative to help in teaching punctuation.
“Their fluency program already has a brand called ‘Take Flight,’” Professor Larkin said. “So I thought, if I’m going to create intellectual property for the punctuation, I’ll need to give it a brand too. And of course I got really excited, because I love to create brands. Then I started thinking about color, typography, style of graphics, and on and on.”
From there Professor Larkin developed Ellah’s Tools. Ellah, standing for Experiential Language Learning At Home, could act as an at-home supplement to “Take Flight,” a fluency program developed by the Center for Dyslexia.
“Karen asked me if there was a way to allow parents access to the tools so they could use them at home for supplementing what was being done during therapy time at school,” Professor Larkin said.
Professor Larkin did extensive research and concepting in the process of creating Ellah’s Tools. She had to find a way to animate and teach six basic punctuation marks to children with learning differences, in a way that would keep them engaged.
“Just like with branding, when things are always the same sometimes consumers get tired of it,” Professor Larkin said. “So of course these consumers would be second and third grade children so I want to make it exciting. Every week I gave them a different genre. The comma is based on blues. And I thought, okay, who is someone that inspires me when it comes to blues; well that was BB King. So the song was the style of BB King’s music.”
Throughout the creation process, Professor Larkin never had any sort of budget. She used a combination of her own talents, friends’ talents, and purchasing inexpensive stock music to create prototypes. She used Garage Band to create and edit the music, and Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and Flash to create the final product.
“One of my Professors at Texas A&M actually has a blues band,” Professor Larkin said. “They’ve been around for years, and so Bill Ford was gracious to sing the lyrics for the comma. And sang it in his style to music that sounded like typical BB King blues. Because I don’t have a budget, I used a high definition recorder that I purchased. And we recorded in closets and small office spaces, so that there was limited echo. All of that came together in Flash and what we decided to do was instead of flushing out everything at the beginning, because it’s research…and things change, we thought…let’s do it in segments.”
Ellah’s Tools is designed to be a visual curriculum that reinforces what students learn in therapy. In creating the first prototype, Professor Larkin got parents involved through solicitation with therapists at schools in Wiley, Texas. Each week, she gave the therapists a package that include a DVD for parents to use at home and games to go along with the fluency stories.
“Parents were excited to participate. One parent told me that her daughter kept reminding her not to miss the meeting! I met with them for coaching on how to use the prototypes that we were putting together,” Professor Larkin said. “One of the stories was about different types of animals on a farm, so I [created] a scavenger hunt [game]. Another story was about some kids at the beach, so I created a word and image match game. The parents had that to play with alongside a list of prompts that they could use to excite their kids, what kind of conditions that the environment should be in when the kids are interacting with the tools for best case scenario.”
Professor Larkin was able to get feedback from the parents as well as the therapists collecting data. She created a pre- and a post-test for the therapists to evaluate the students. Both tested students not only on their fluency, but on prosody, and their comprehension of punctuation.
“The post-test revealed encouraging data,” Professor Larkin said. “All of the students showed improvement in their reading abilities and comprehension in at least one area. That was really exciting for what it meant to have children experience learning in a different way. It was multi-sensory and reinforced their therapy at home but in a fun way. When the study was done the parents participated in a survey on Survey Monkey. The feedback was great.”
Professor Larkin is hopeful for the future of design research. Last semester she met with the Budd Center at SMU, looking for the potential of sharing the punctuation prototypes with public schools in Dallas. She is also waiting to hear back from a unique school in Dallas that was created specifically for children with learning differences.
“My hope is that there is a way to be able to share these tools, and create more,” Professor Larkin said. “Right now there still isn’t a budget, so that means grant writing, begging, and convincing. I think visual narratives can assist all learning styles.”
TAI Assistant Professor Sidharth Muralidharan has been published in various academic journals, with five more publications forthcoming. His main research focuses are cross-cultural studies and advertising’s impact on mitigating social and environmental issues.
His most recent accepted publication is titled “‘Green’ with guilt: Assessing gender differences in ownership messaging efforts in support of England’s plastic bag charge.” The paper will be published in the Journal of Advertising Research, one of the major academic journals in the advertising field.
“There have been plastic bag ordinances where shoppers have the option of either buying plastic bags or avoiding the charge by bringing reusable bags,” Professor Muralidharan said. “One such law came into effect in England, UK. My co-author and I were interested to test the effectiveness of the law by exploring the interplay of guilt appeals in ads and gender on shoppers’ green attitudes and behavior.”
Professor Muralidharan and his co-author did a two-part study exploring gender differences in consumers’ feelings of guilt relating to reusable grocery bags in Study-1 and how each gender responded to guilt appeals in Study-2.
“Survey findings from Study-1 showed that guilt was more impactful on women and helped generate favorable green attitudes and behavior,” Professor Muralidharan said. “Based on these findings, Study-2 was designed to examine how men and women would respond to guilt appeals for green messages framed by egoistic (focus is on the self) and biospheric (focus is on the environment) concerns. Two ads were designed that elicited a moderate level of guilt related to egoistic (personal savings from bringing reusable bags) and biospheric (saving the environment by bringing reusable bags) concerns. Findings showed that egoistic concerns were more effective and that this effect was stronger for women than men.”
Professor Muralidharan believes that this research has managerial implications, saying that the UK government and green advertisers could change their messaging to appeal to egoistic values instead of emphasizing on the more typical environmental benefits.
“Guilt elicited by ads seems to motivate shoppers, especially women, to engage in pro-environmental behavior,” Professor Muralidharan said. “Using gender as a segmentation strategy, advertisers could elicit guilt by incorporating ownership messages in egoistic ads that credit shoppers for behaviors they have yet to begin (e.g., contributing to their personal savings by carrying reusable bags). For pro-environment attitudes and behavior to follow, advertisers should highlight egoistic solutions to the problem: benefits such as personal savings and positive emotions such as happiness. By doing so, advertisers will initiate coping mechanisms that allow consumers to mitigate emotional dissonance and encourage them to pursue pro-environment choices.”
Along with his research, Professor Muralidharan teaches four courses at SMU, including undergraduate (Survey of Advertising and Advertising, Society & Ethics), and graduate (Advertising as a Cultural Force and Responsibility and Social Entrepreneurship) courses.
“Ethics lacks importance in both college curriculum and the advertising industry,” Professor Muralidharan said. “On reading past student evaluations, I can say that my greatest accomplishment is when our students at the end of the semester realize the value of ethics and social responsibility in advertising.”
Research is a passion of Professor Muralidharan’s. Although it can be very time consuming to be both a professor and a researcher, he uses his love for research as motivation to balance the two.
“I’ve been teaching at SMU since 2012 and will complete five years by end of this semester,” Professor Muralidharan said. “I try to give equal importance to both teaching and research and being organized and strategic can help maintain a healthy balance. For my balancing act, I begin with teaching first since it is more structured and has a schedule in place, while trying to weave in my research endeavors whenever there are no teaching periods in between. Though research is more malleable, I still organize my research projects for the year, including deadlines and target journals. This is imperative in order to achieve my annual research goals.”
Professor Muralidharan has three other publications forthcoming in both the Asian Journal of Communication and the Journal of Promotion Management. Working on so many research projects has taught him the proper equation for doing research as well as improving his patience.
“I always try to work on research projects that explore advertising’s ability to help mitigate social and environmental issues,” Professor Muralidharan said. “During my tenure as a researcher, I have been fortunate enough to work with accomplished researchers and through collaborations I was able to learn new research methods and statistical analyses while at the same time improved my skills as a storyteller. A strong narrative and appropriate method/analysis go hand-in-hand and both are equally important to a study’s publication success. The multiple research projects I have worked on over the years have taught me a major lesson, which is patience. It can take months for a study to transform from an idea to having it published in a journal but the key is to view the journey as a marathon and not a 100-meter dash.”
Tuesday November 12, 2013 TAI hosted the Exxon Mobil Lecture Series with Publicis Dallas Advertising Agency at the Angelika. A documentary developed by Publicis Dallas was presented which focused on the 1-in-3 Americans who are just making it paycheck to paycheck. Kelly Gomez of Publicis Dallas and a former graduate of TAI’s BA and MA programs in Advertising was involved in the making of the documentary. The goal of the night was to learn about this growing group of Americans and try to understand how to serve them with products that are worthy of their business. According to Dr. La Ferle, a professor in the Temerlin Advertising Institute, “Each dollar is hard to come by for this group but yet they still need to buy products. The audience began to consider how to serve this group by adding value to brands to make each dollar spent go a little further.”
The night kicked off with many old and new friends and students of the Temerlin Advertising Institute mingling. Previous graduates of the program such as Aubrey Flanigan, Alexandra Watson and AdeDoyin Adebiyi showed up to give their support. Many faculty members came out for the event along with several team members from Publicis Dallas and other agencies in town.
Sally Kennedy, CEO of Publicis Dallas introduced the documentary. Following the film, a panel made of up Rosalyn Rawitscher, VP and Group Planning Director at Publicis Dallas and Steve McGehee, SVP and Group Account Director discussed the creation of the documentary and the implementation of the work to help clients such as CiCi’s better position their brands to this consumer group. Dr. Carrie La Ferle also spoke on the panel highlighting how advertisers can use this informative information to build stronger relationships between consumers and brands by speaking to consumers where they are and with the needs they are currently experiencing.
Dr. Steve Edwards, Director of the Temerlin Advertising Institute, who organized the night said “The research and documentary by Publicis Dallas was a great opportunity to share this with our current students, our alumni working in industry and the Dallas advertising community at large.” He went on to say “TAI believes that advertising is a tool that can be used to enhance brands and build relationships with consumers while also providing for positive outcomes in society. We are believers in our slogan, Better Advertising. Better World and this documentary was just another opportunity to present new ways to consider harnessing the positive power that advertising can bring to consumers, brands and society.”