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Interns Develop Refreshing Brand Strategy

1 Sep 2023

A talented group of eight college students and recent graduates joined The Mars Agency’s annual internship program this summer to hone their skills while getting a taste of agency life. The program was remote in 2022, but this year the interns were able to come together in person at The Mars Agency headquarters in Southfield, Michigan.

Every year, each intern works with one or more mentors on a specific team or piece of business. This provides them with the experience to apply their academic interests within an agency environment and also learn from a more senior expert. The defining Mars piece is that the group is assigned a real project from one of our clients.

The project objective this summer was to modernize the client’s brand portfolio, with the goal of increasing awareness among Gen Z, reinvigorating brand presence across regional grocers, and building better relationships with retailers. And who better to do that than a group of Gen Zers.

This year, the group got together about three to four times each week to share findings, brainstorm and strategize. Along the way, they met with the project mentors for feedback and guidance. The mentors often shared ways the interns could elevate the project and what a client would expect from the team. Elizabeth Byarski, an intern on the Customer Development team, noted, “I leaned into my mentors the most when I needed clarification on retailer specs or guidelines when creating the engagement plan and activation proposal.”

They started by creating a three-pronged approach to win with this audience: understand how Gen Z currently interacts with the brand and product, ideate messaging that drives awareness, and activate the idea online and in stores. This process allowed the group to learn how to research audience data, create compelling visuals, and develop an understanding for crafting an omnichannel strategy.

Utilizing our proprietary Marilyn Commerce Marketing Technology Platform to gain better insights into Gen Z behavior, they found that the audience is health conscious, but slow to take action when it comes to their health. Further findings showed that the audience is frequently tapped into social media, with their purchase decisions impacted by both friends and influencers. Additionally, they’re looking for food and drinks that will save them time and money, often resulting in eating on the go.

But how can Gen Z fuel that hustle lifestyle? The interns homed in on energy drinks as their opportunity. Through data from Marilyn and user-generated content (UGC), they found that the Gen Z has the second highest rate of consuming energy drinks.

To get in front of this audience, the team developed two visual concepts. The first concept focused on standing out through in-store signage and a digital presence. The look would highlight the drinks’ main fruit ingredient and speak to Gen Z’s on-the-go lifestyle.

A second idea was crafted with the idea of standing out on the shelf. The new label design utilized vibrant color palettes to emphasize each flavor’s look and appeal, an “Energy Juice” headline to differentiate from other energy products on the market, and a “Benefits Stripe” to highlight key drink qualities.

To get a feel for how the product could look on a retailer shelf through the lens of a marketer, the group undertook multiple store walks. They saw how shelf talkers and endcaps can help drive awareness and trial, all better informing their activation strategy. And they were able to get an understanding for the unique personalities of multiple retailers and how the product could display differently at each.

“Jen Wooten [Director on the Customer Development team] led us through our first store walk in Meijer,” explained Bella Zaleski, Creative intern. “She showed us how the displays adhere to specific retailers, how bigger brands will take up more shelf space, and how each brand tries to grab a shopper’s attention in only a few seconds.”

In developing their media and activation plan, the group used audience data to identify how they might communicate the benefits of the drink along multiple points across the path to purchase. Marilyn data found the target audience skewing towards free in-store samples (87%), online digital ads (86%), and special product displays (80%), with social media ads and special shelf signage following closely behind.

The team also presented two activation strategies, one for each visual concept. The first would lean more into in-store tactics while the second relied more on digital activations. For the concept elevating the brand’s current look, the strategy would be deployed through a mix of in-store, online and experiential outlets. The second strategy, and the complete visual overhaul, would employ both in-store and online tactics and would also leverage influencers. The reliance on digital tactics would work to reach Gen Z where they’re at: on social media.

The interns had the opportunity to present their project to three different client teams and receive live feedback. Hailey Wasik, Client Leadership intern, reflected on the experience, “[Presenting] was wonderful and something I didn’t think I would get the ability to do as an intern. I liked hearing [client] feedback and answering questions to help them better understand how we got to our ideas. Overall, the experience was great and I think we would all do it again in a heartbeat.”

From the project ask to ideating strategy to meeting with the client, the interns were truly able to experience the “real-world” feel of agency work. “Our goal is to provide the interns with an experience that truly mirrors Mars agency life,” said Kris Abrahamson, SVP of Client Leadership. “It was a chance for them to build a rapport with each other and receive real-time feedback on their work.” And when asked what their favorite part of the program was, all of them said being together and collaborating on the group project.

Rising to the challenge, this group showed a high-level of critical thinking, creativity, and drive. They were so impressive that three recent grads landed their first full-time position with The Mars Agency. Please join us in welcoming:

  • Elizabeth Byarski, Media Coordinator
  • Hailey Wasik, Assistant Account Executive, and
  • Bella Zaleski, Associate Designer.

With a focus on growth for our people as one of the agency’s core pillars, the internship program has been an incredible opportunity to cultivate young talent within the agency itself.

Learn more about each of our summer interns and the program here. We’ll begin accepting intern applications for our 2024 program in December via the Careers page on

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