Ross Chowles’ Idea-a-Thons: Strategic Thinking for Creatives

In today’s world, it’s hard for an advertisement to catch someone’s eye, let alone make an impact. An art director can produce beautifully-designed campaigns, but without an understanding of their audience and what they want — without strategy — the work will go unnoticed.

Advertising Professor of Practice Ross Chowles is working to make sure this doesn’t become the unfortunate reality for his students. Though strategic thinking is an integral part of the creative process, Chowles doesn’t believe it’s integrated into the curriculum as well as it could be. Through his weekly Idea-a-Thon sessions, he’s helping students hone their ability to create strategically.

“You can have nice typography, nice copy, but if what you’re missing is your argument for a person to buy the product, it collapses,” said Chowles. “It’s empty. The strategic thinking component — the insights — is a very important piece. And that’s all I’m trying to do: start a movement of that kind of thinking.”

Developing Strategies


During the Idea-a-Thons, Chowles presents three separate briefs, giving students roughly 30 minutes to come up with a solution. Though most of the problems resolve around marketing situations like brand strategy and purchasing trends, Chowles will occasionally bring more serious topics to the forefront. When the MSU’s name began to dominate news media earlier this year, he decided to present it as a brief: How do you change the public’s perception of Michigan State in the midst of Larry Nassar’s sentencing?

“I said, ‘What are you going to do? How are you going to fix it?’” said Chowles. “And out of that, one of the teams came up with Go Teal.”

Go Teal became the student-led movement that applauds sexual assault survivors for their courage, invites interaction from the community and demands a change in the campus culture. Since its launch, it has received a high level of praise from the Spartan community. And it all started as a strategic concept during Idea-a-Thon.

“Ross said, ‘I want you guys to really start working on this thing,’” said Tianyi Xie, an Advertising junior who was one of the five students that made Go Teal a reality. “Then we put [together] the whole campaign. This made me feel like we are really doing things that are changing the campus.”

Preparing for the Future


All in all, Chowles is making sure his students are prepared for the industry after graduation — no matter what it holds. With the rapid evolution of technology, he wants to ensure that these budding professionals will still be a critical part of any organization.

“Artificial intelligence is a tsunami that’s coming and we don’t know how hard it will hit everybody,” said Chowles. “But one thing AI can’t do is critical thinking, strategic thinking.”

The professor of practice hopes the success of his Idea-a-Thons will allow him to push for curriculum change that will better prepare students to be critical thinkers capable of solving complex problems. According to Xie, the students are clearly benefiting from the training.

“I would 100 percent recommend [going] to an Idea-a-Thon,” said Xie. “It is a good opportunity to learn how to think strategically. Being creative or interesting is not enough for advertising. [The creative aspect] needs to be based on strategy, so it can solve real problems.”

His Idea-a-Thons are held every Friday from 11:00-1:00 p.m. in Room 165 and open to any students who wish to attend.

By Kaitlin Dudlets