Media Sandbox Michigan State University

Advertising professor Ross Chowles combines Lego figurines and social media to teach a lesson

What do Twitter, Lego figurines and advertising all have in common? For the average person, not much. For advertising professor Ross Chowles, it represents something larger.

Chowles is in his second semester teaching at MSU. He grew up in South Africa where he was one of the founding partners of the successful advertising agency, The Jupiter Drawing Room Cape Town.

He recently started an out-of-the-box social media experiment with his portfolio preparation class (ADV 450). Chowles gave each student a Lego figurine where they had to act as that character and create a tone of voice via Twitter.

Creative advertising major and graphic design minor Travis Root grew up watching the movie ‘Nacho Libre,’ and decided to base his Lego character off of the movie.

Root’s character was an over-the-top wrestler. With no background in Spanish, Root decided to write all of his character’s Tweets in Spanish to really get into the tone of his character.

“I was excited about the opportunity to use jokes and memes from the ‘Nacho Libre’ movie,” Root said. “For authenticity sake I decided to do the whole thing in Spanish so I had to use Google translate and occasionally Bing translate.”

The senior said his future will hopefully include working with people to collaborate and be creative.

“He (Chowles) is really supportive in creative stuff,” Root said. “Ross has really great ideas and he is always willing to make you think about things in new ways but he’s not so binary about the whole thing. All of the assignments are based to benefit our portfolio and he just wants to help us make a really solid portfolio.”

Senior in creative advertising Alex Grajewski took on the role as a bodybuilder Lego. According to Grajewski, Chowles gave him this character to represent Grajewski’s own workout routine.

“I think I am going to continue it (his character) after because my friends don’t know it’s me, so I have been following some of my friends and I have been Tweeting at them so they will tell me to look on Twitter about this Lego person,”  Grajewski joked.

Grajewski said he would like to check out Seattle or the San Francisco area after graduating from MSU. He said he relies on this class to help him build his portfolio.

“I would like to be an art director,”  Grajewski said. “I want to get really into doing ad campaigns and stay away from doing the sales. I want to make something people are going to remember.”

Jamie Miller is a creative advertising major who took on the role of an ‘80s gym bunny Lego for  her project in the class.

“He (Chowles) has come up with more unique projects than I have seen,” Miller said. “He wanted us to completely embody these characters and do our own thing with it. I wasn’t born in the ‘80s, I was on my computer looking up terms from the ‘80s and stuff.”

Miller said she has been interested in advertising ever since she was young. Miller said she remembered times where she would be watching TV and ads would stand out to her.

“When I would watch TV advertisements they weren’t boring to me and I would notice the good ones,” Miller said. “I like being more on the creative side, you can have that creative thinking and apply that to something practical.”

The senior said she is moving to Boston after graduation and is looking to work with an advertising agency. Until then she said working with Chowles has helped prepare her for life outside of MSU.

“It was a very interesting way of looking at tone and promoting an image,” Miller said. “We started this whole community and we started getting random people following us. It just shows how much social media can spread so quickly.”

With social media being one of the new trends for brands to communicate, Chowles said advertising agencies look for students with an understanding in using social media as a platform for brand conversations.

“In my mind the idea is that at the end of the course they are leaving with a professional portfolio that will go and get them a job at a better agency,” Chowles said. “So you have to fill it with things that agencies say ‘Ok, we do that. We need that.’”

“Clients are excited about this medium and all its possibilities but also you can’t control what consumers say,” Chowles said. “Traditional marketing you can control because you make a TV ad and you put it out but social media people talk and answer back. Our job is to start this conversation.

The Twitter experiment is still up and running. Students have been posting new Tweets every week.

“From what I have seen the students don’t get taught enough of it,” Chowles said. “They may get taught social media as a theory but not enough as a creative application. Good use of social media is to spark a conversation and I wanted my students to get into that headspace of having a conversation.”

“I want them to understand brand personality online because most brands when they speak it is boring and humanless stuff,” Chowles said. “Social media is the absolute opposite. We seek out stuff that is funny, charming and interesting.”





Michigan State UniversityCollege of Communication Arts and Sciences


MSU Media Sandbox is a creative CURRICULUM and COMMUNITY in the College of Communication Arts & Sciences at Michigan State University.