Middle school students from across Faulkner County participated in the University of Central Arkansas Brand Camp this week.
During the four-day event, attendees were split up into groups to learn about marketing, branding and product development from the Little Rock agency, Eric, Rob & Isaac, who started the camp three years ago.
Eric Langaster, of Eric, Rob & Isaac, told the Log Cabin Democrat they usually work for nonprofits and the like and wanted to find a way to work with children and pour back into that demographic, which is how the camp came about.
He said there’s a lot of aspects to the ad agency and marketing professional world that kids aren’t often exposed to and wanted to give them a way to get that experience from the pros in hopes that it would give kids both understanding and another career option they may not have had prior.
“We just looked around and thought [about] how we would’ve loved to have done something like that when we were kids and there was nothing like that in the market,” Langaster said. “It’s hands-on, it’s fun, you know.”
He said they try to partner with a different type of company each time; they’ve done ice cream, water and now tacos with partner Tacos 4 Life, Conway-based restaurant chain that donates meals to those in need.
The multiple groups were in charge of developing a dessert taco for the restaurant, placing prices on the product, creating a commercial and a table tent for the item as well.
Langaster said at this stage in the middle schooler’s lives, they still have that wide-eyed enthusiasm, creative and collaborative and fun and haven’t been jaded by the world telling them their ideas are dumb.
On Friday, they presented those ideas to a panel of judges, UCA Conductor Chief Catalyst Jeff Standridge — the conductor and UCA were both partners with Eric, Rob & Isaac as well — UCA President Houston Davis and his wife, first lady Jenny Davis and finally, Tacos 4 Life founder Austin Samuelson.
“I was just blown away by their creativity and just the excitement,” Samuelson said. “I mean, it was just phenomenal.”
After the presentations, judges deliberated to determine winners: best dessert concept, Choco Waffo; best social video, Sopa Loca; best table tent, Cookie Dilla; best social graphic, Choco Taco Insanity; and best PowerPoint presentation, Choco Sundae.
“Honestly, we had a really hard time choosing,” Samuelson said. “With all the categories, they were all very professional, very clean. They stuck to, kind of, the perimeters, the guidelines they were given, which was really important in this field to be able to take what the clients vision is and make it a reality.”
That aspect, Conductor Chief Executive Officer Kim Lane said, was the point of the camp and the reason they decided to partner with Eric, Rob & Isaac in the first place.
“We were like absolutely,” she said. “We love the idea of inspiring creativity and innovation in young people so it really was a perfect match.”
The camp, Lane said, gave students the chance to turn their ideas into reality in a “major way.”
“Some of the biggest value, I think, is they’re learning a lot,” she said. “They’re learning about branding and marketing and product development but they’re learning it in a really fun and hands-on way. I think it’s one thing to learn out of a textbook but here, you’re actually seeing your ideas come to life.”