Advertisements surround us wherever we go. Commutes are often punctuated by radio and billboard ads. The daily trip to the mailbox can bring promotions for new products or services. And when we settle down after a long day, our favorite show may be interrupted by commercials.

That ubiquity is the reason the study of advertising is critical in our society today. It’s also the reason advertising has been added as the fifth major in the School of Communication.

“The creation of the major expands opportunities for Virginia Tech students,” said Douglas Cannon, associate director of the School of Communication. “They can get a broader education in communication in the context of advertising.”

The advertising major, which officially kicked off in the fall of 2021, complements communication courses with classes in marketing from the Department of Marketing and in graphic design from the School of Visual Arts.

These courses, once spread out across campus, are now combined into the advertising major. It was a natural partnership that made sense from the outset, according to Rajesh Bagchi, the R.B. Pamplin Professor of Marketing and head of the marketing department.

“Higher education is in transition,” Bagchi said. “There was a time when you had the different majors and people were there to get in-depth knowledge about their majors. The world has changed a lot. Now as we see that tasks are more well-defined, it is at the intersection of multiple things. This is one example where you can see that the School of Communication and the Department of Marketing have tremendous synergy. We work together. We both win, and ultimately it’s the students who really benefit.”

With this unified curriculum, Virginia Tech graduates can begin careers in advertising and creative agencies with integrated communication training across advertising, marketing, and public relations. Now they’re receiving formalized instruction in the discipline through a number of courses, including Advertising Copywriting and Brand Storytelling, Account Planning and Media Buying, and Ethics and Social Responsibility in Advertising.

“Agencies want students who can work in integrated communication,” Cannon said. “The advertising major allows Virginia Tech students to get that experience. They can major in advertising. They can major in marketing. They can major in public relations, but in all of those areas, they can now get coursework that shows integrated communication. 

“Our two campaigns courses — Marketing Communications and Public Relations Campaigns — can now pursue integrated campaigns that incorporate public relations and paid communication.”

Along with the new major, advertising is being formalized as a minor to draw in students outside the School of Communication. This minor allows marketing majors and other students across campus to add a specialization in advertising.

“This is a good first step in giving our students an opportunity to integrate knowledge from different fields and double in an area of expertise that is going to be of tremendous importance,” Bagchi said. “Advertising — and business in general — has a big role to play in helping the next generation of business leaders. Students may study any major, yet they will still end up working in an organization where an understanding of business principles will be critical. This major opens a new avenue to reach out to some of these students.”

The major is already attracting the attention of prospective students and current students looking to transfer into the major. One of those students who changed her major to advertising is first-year student Lauren Kornman.

“I want to go into advertising because of the opportunities I’ll have to exhibit my creative skills and to work in a fast-paced environment,” Kornman said. “This major allows me to do just that, and it has been a perfect fit for me. I’m so excited to see where it takes me!”

The potential for growth makes the advertising major an exciting opportunity.

“Preliminary research showed that advertising would likely be a popular major,” Cannon said. “Most people know what advertising is. High school juniors and seniors don’t necessarily know what public relations is, and they’re not always sure what journalism is. Advertising, they know.”

The major is still in its infancy, with the first advertising-specific courses scheduled for the fall of 2022. In the meantime, students in the major are completing the core degree requirements and prerequisite marketing courses.

“What I’m most excited about is developing these interdisciplinary programs,” Bagchi said. “Joint, forward-thinking collaborations really help our students. In the end, that’s what we’re really here for, right?”

Written by Cory Van Dyke