Building authenticity through the Advertising Capstone Challenge

Case Studies


The University of Queensland, Swinburne, Western Sydney University


Dr Nicolas Pontes, John Greig and David Reid

Building authenticity through the Advertising Capstone Challenge

Enhancing advertising students’ career-readiness through industry engagement projects, competition and inter-University collaboration.

Project Overview


Advertising (Communication & Business)

Model/s of WIL activity

Industry/community based projects

Description of WIL activity

The ‘Advertising Capstone Challenge’ conceived by Swinburne University of Technology embraces multiple learning approaches (work integrated learning, authentic learning, problem based learning, client based learning) to accelerate students real world knowledge, and links to Industry. The Advertising Industry was and continues to be very hungry for bright, capable and motivated student graduates. This program embeds Industry relevant experiences into the undergraduate curriculum to ensure advertising students have a completive edge upon graduation. The approach has grown into a National competition entitled ‘Advertising Capstone Challenge’ with Swinburne University of Technology, the University of Queensland, and Western Sydney University as foundation partners.

How long has it been operating?

2016 to 2020 (ongoing)

How does the WIL activity demonstrate good practice and/or innovation?

Whilst University level Advertising programs are set at an applied learning level, commensurate with TEQSA accreditation requirements, historically the program at Swinburne University of Technology was purely fictional, built on poorly formed imaginary academic practice. As a strong believer in enhancing student experience with real-world opportunities, David Reid was able to transform the capstone program by introducing an authentic learning environment, defined by academic rigour and strong Industry partnerships. This, in turn, has resulted in the acceleration of the appropriate discipline skills and facilitation of greater employability for students.

Industry support is a clear indicator of the program’s depth and strength. A number of leading multi-national advertising agencies, and their major clients, have backed the initiative by providing real, authentic, complex business challenges (the ‘live’ brief), with defined marketing budgets in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As evidenced below, the program has significantly enriched the student experience:

“This capstone challenge has taught me an incredible amount, not only in terms of working for a real-time client, but also taking on a role and really discovering myself in that role”; “What an amazing experience! Absolutely loved my time competing”; “The Capstone Challenge final’s was a phenomenal experience. Meeting and presenting to the McDonalds marketing team and DDB was truly the highlight of my career”; “The Capstone Unit has been very educative in utilising all past learning throughout the Advertising Bachelor.”

Swinburne + UQ Business School students

Who benefits from the WIL activity and how?

The Advertising Capstone places student learning at the centre and has adopted a number of industry learning processes, which include authentic learning, client-based learning, problem based learning and work integrated learning.

The WIL project is focussed on a problem a client is facing – the ‘live brief’. This is real, authentic, and commercially sensitive to the business. Introduced in 2014 & 2015 by the nominee with clients directly approached. Then expanded and rebranded as the Advertising Capstone Challenge and then co-delivered synchronously by Swinburne University of Technology, and the University of Queensland (since 2016), and Western Sydney University (since 2019). All enrolled students undertake the challenge so 100% of the capstone intake, around 60 students each year at Swinburne University of Technology, around 70 each year at the University of Queensland, and around 50 at Western Sydney University.

Each year students take on professional roles in teams (4-6 in number) and compete against each other for the opportunity to take their Advertising campaign pitches directly to the client at the end of the second semester. The six finalist teams secure award certificates, and client product, and in 2020 students in the top three teams receive direct entry into an International Industry focused graduate education program, whilst the winning team also secures coveted advertising internships, and executive mentorships.

The industry partnerships have been the critical connection in this nexus, providing the direct link to their clients, and the business challenges they are facing. M&C Saatchi facilitated the relationship with Cricket Australia, Leo Burnett with 7-Eleven, AJF Partnership Lion Dairy and Foods, Doyle Dane Bernbach with McDonalds Australia, and for 2020 Deloitte Digital with Suzuki Australia.

How does the activity embed successful evaluation processes?

At Swinburne this is integrated at three levels. Firstly at Faculty level where students can anonymously feedback on their experience of the academic unit of studies. Secondly embedded in assessment students sign a learning contract to undertake a professional role at the beginning of the Semester, and then reflectively evaluate on that role, and their experience at the end of the Semester. They receive academic credit for both of these elements within the unit, and are offered one-to-one meetings with the Unit Convenor through the course of their studies. Thirdly, the Advertising Capstone Challenge management team receives feedback from Industry on the relative value of the program, and the student advertising campaign work.

What are the broader/longer term impacts for stakeholders?

The Advertising Capstone Challenge has grown considerably since its inception in 2016, spanning three University partners, and three states. In 2020, as a direct result of the global pandemic (COVID-19), the challenge has (temporarily) moved online, with the support of Industry partner Deloitte Digital and client Suzuki Australia.

The website, launched on the 1st August 2020, providing a ‘front of house’ for the initiative, backgrounding the program’s history, whilst hosting additional resources and educational materials for students.

How is the WIL activity integrated into curricula?

For all foundation partners (Swinburne University of Technology, the University of Queensland, and Western Sydney University) the Advertising Capstone Challenge is integrated within curricula. As a capstone unit, students are at the ‘peak’ of their studies within the discipline. The Unit Academic Convenor from University partner ultimately manages student learning. Given the applied practical nature of the project based WIL, students are taught, and mentored through their campaign development. The industry partner also offers additional guidance around key facets of the business requirements through the course of the challenge. At Swinburne (as highlighted above) students are also required to submit a learning contract which ties them to a professional industry role, mapped to their developing skillset. Reflection is a requirement of summative assessment.

How is it informed by relevant theoretical or empirical literature, research and/or scholarship?

After in depth research of pedagogical approaches to teaching the world of work within the Advertising Capstone, Work Integrated Education (WIE) (Searle, 1995) was embraced as the umbrella term for a multitude of approaches, including Authentic Learning (Shaffer & Resnick, 1999), Client-Based Learning (Goodell & Draft, 1991), Problem-Based Learning (Wee et al., 2003) and WIL (Patrick et al., 2008) – see WIL Learning Model (Reid & Hartley, 2018). Billet suggests that WIE is the “deliberate organisation, provision and integration of experiences from which particular kinds of learning are intended, includes efforts by educators to augment those experiences” (Searle in Billet, 2018). The practical solution was therefore obvious, but complicated to initiate:

  1. Utilise various approaches to WIE to build real world learning experiences for students nearing completion of their studies, and
  2. Connect students with Industry where that engagement will result in career opportunities.

What are the plans for the WIL activity in the future?

The ‘Advertising Capstone Challenge’ is now an integrated part of the curriculum across three Universities in three states around Australia. Given the impact of Covid-19, the 2020 program is temporarily online whilst maintaining authentic learning experiences for students. In 2021, further University partners from across Australia will be invited to join, whilst the longer term strategy is to invite institutions from across New Zealand, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East to join the challenge.

John Greig

John Greig

Western Sydney University

Dr Nicolas Pontes

Dr Nicolas Pontes

The University of Queensland

David Reid

David Reid

Swinburne University of Technology