Student ambassadors lower costs for brands


Matthew Mo

A Brand Ambassador sticker is placed on the counter near the register at Kung Fu Tea, located at 707 S 6th St. in Champaign.

By Julie Kang , Staff Writer

When Sophie Walton, senior in FAA, received an Instagram message from a random woman asking her to work as a brand ambassador, she was skeptical.

Despite this, Walton decided to proceed with the hiring process and became a campus brand ambassador with Express, a fashion company that mainly targets young men and women. As the holiday season approaches, Walton and an increasing number of University student brand ambassadors are joining celebrities as the faces of advertisements for businesses small and large.  

“The hiring process was a little sketchy, but Express is a well-known brand. I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t a major brand,” Walton said.

The woman who contacted her works for Youth Marketing Connection, a management portal that connects students and companies.

Shachar Meron, lecturer in Media, focuses mainly on brand strategy and advertising campaigns.

Meron said social media plays a big role in this shift from celebrities to college students since ordinary people can develop a following now, too.

“Also, millennials are more skeptical of paid brand communications (like advertising) than they used to be in the past, and are more trusting of a message if it comes from a peer that they know, and would rather receive it in a personal and experiential way,” Meron said in an email.

Meron said it is important to note companies are hiring students in addition to celebrities, not in place of them.

One important component of advertising, Meron said, is the cost of hiring brand ambassadors. He said if a company has a lot of money to spend, choosing a celebrity brand ambassador can have a larger overall impact on audiences. However, hiring celebrities can be very expensive.

There is also a risk associated with investing a large sum of money in a celebrity spokesperson who may get in legal trouble or say something offensive, putting the company in a bad light. Students are a safer bet, Meron said.

“Student brand ambassadors are a much better value; it’s really cheap to hire student brand ambassadors, and each point of contact with a friend or peer has the potential to be really impactful,” he said.

Walton is the shipping coordinator of Express at the University. She is in charge of receiving, maintaining and organizing packages.

Walton promotes Express on campus by spreading the word about discounts and rewards. She held an event on the Main Quad on Sept. 21 where she handed out free clothes and encouraged students to sign up for the Express rewards system. Walton also posts on her social media regularly to advertise for the brand.

Being a brand ambassador at the University has helped her with public speaking and gaining confidence in her field, she said.

“As a designer, I have been able to promote my own products and own brands more,” Walton said.

Anthony Bosco, senior in Media, is a brand ambassador for hims, a company that specializes in men’s health care products like skincare and hair loss treatment.

Like Walton, Bosco was contacted by someone from Youth Marketing Connection through LinkedIn, based on his advertising background and sales experience. He had an interview over the phone and had to compile photos of himself, because YMC wanted to ensure he was the right fit.

In addition to promoting through social media, Bosco holds group visits around campus where he hands out pizza and sample products while answering any questions students may have.

“More recently, my team has been doing bathroom takeovers to specifically target men,” Bosco said.

One bathroom takeover event Bosco and his team held was a barbershop takeover at Leland’s Barbershop on Wednesday. They offered beard and neck trims, gave out shampoo samples and had free food available for participants.

Walton and Bosco both said one reason companies might be starting to hire college students as brand ambassadors over celebrities is because they are more relatable and easier to openly communicate with.

For example, Walton said Express clothes are more commonly worn by college students than celebrities.

Bosco said one important part of being a student brand ambassador for him is that students may be more open to purchasing its products if they know another male their age is using them.

“It makes the purchase process through the eyes of the student way more comfortable,” Bosco said.

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