marketing campaign ad for Panchero's Mexican Grill
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Tom Snee

Pancheros Mexican Grill restaurants is celebrating the company’s 25th anniversary this year. A group of University of Iowa students is helping the company come up with ideas to market its 26th.

The marketing students, who are taking the Integrated Marketing Communications class this fall in the Tippie College of Business, developed ideas that the Coralville-based Mexican restaurant chain might consider as part of the 70-store company’s advertising campaign in 2018.

Rob Rouwenhorst, a member of the Tippie marketing faculty who teaches the class, says Pancheros is a good client to use for students because many of them are frequent customers and are familiar with the product already. The company’s irreverent, whimsical advertising voice also gives students wide creative latitude and lets them have fun.

That leads them to develop ideas such as “Just in Queso,” where food emergencies are cured by Pancheros fans who always have extra chips and queso; Burritos Better Grown, a variation of the company’s Burritos Better Built slogan that would focus on the natural ingredients in its food; and the Bob Hall of Fame, which riffs off the plastic spatulas the company markets as Bob the Tool that are used to mix burrito ingredients. The hall, which the students propose to put in the company’s flagship downtown Iowa City restaurant, would feature a host of famous Bobs in history and pop culture—think Hope and Barker—and also feature the mixing device.

“I had high expectations for their work and they met them,” says Rob Miller, Pancheros marketing director and a 2010 UI graduate. “I was really impressed with the quality of the presentations, the level of detail, the concepting, the graphic work, and the quality of thought that went into everything.”

Rouwenhorst says the experiential learning opportunity gives students something to put in their portfolios as they look for a job that shows they’ve actually done hands-on, agency-style work. He flips the class, meaning that lectures and reading assignments are posted online for students to complete on their own time, and the class period is used mostly to brainstorm and discuss project ideas in their teams.

“Experiential learning is when a lot of the ‘a-ha’ moments occur and students suddenly understand what they learn in class,” says Rouwenhorst. “It also gives them a better story to tell at job interviews.”

His classes have worked with Iowa-based businesses facing marketing challenges in the past, including Diwalla and Hon. This is the second time they’ve worked with Pancheros. Two years ago, the company incorporated a class proposal into the social media platform of a national marketing campaign for the company’s expansion to several East Coast states.

The campaign was part of a successful roll-out and led to one of the team members being hired by the company’s marketing department. Miller says the projects also give Pancheros helpful perspectives into their younger markets.

For this assignment, the 32 students were divided into seven groups, and each acted as if they were a creative team at an ad agency competing for an account. They developed ad campaigns with print, online, billboard, audio, and video components. They wrote ad copy, built storyboards, and designed layouts. To get ideas, they visited Pancheros’ headquarters office in Coralville and met with executives to discuss the business’ brand and advertising voice. Some teams did market research, surveying students and other customers about the Pancheros brand and developing their campaign proposals around their findings.

Each team gave its proposal to evaluators at the end of the semester, including Rouwenhorst, Miller, and Pancheros’ marketing analyst, Hunter Nierman. The grade they received made up 40 percent of their overall grade in the class.

Denzell Hayes was a member of the team that developed Just in Queso, which team members said in their presentation was based “on the idea that something in your life just really is not going your way…maybe it’s a breakup right before Valentine’s Day or you falling on the stage during your graduation ceremony…whatever it may be, Pancheros Queso is always there for you. It will always have your back.”

“It follows the quirky voice that Pancheros uses and can be easily modified for use on Twitter, Facebook, television, banner ads, and other platforms,” Hayes says.

A senior marketing major from Cedar Rapids, Hayes says the effort showed him the mechanics of collaboration in developing a creative idea.

“We came up with a full ad campaign with little guidance,” he says. “We had a lot of freedom in what we could do and what direction we wanted to go, and Rob was there to push us and encourage us to think outside the box.”

He says the project was a clarifying experience for him, and gave him a stronger sense of his career direction.

“It pushed me toward thinking about marketing and ad agency work,” he says. “It would be fun to work with clients and help achieve their goals using my creativity.”

Miller says several of the students’ ideas were promising and will likely be incorporated into the company’s campaign.