Campus Reppin’: A dive into the ins, outs of online brand promotion — the popular college gig

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Betsy Garwood, a brand representative for skincare and makeup company Glossier and a senior visual communication design major, poses for a photo in Florence, Italy, on May 31, 2018. Glossier posted Garwood’s photo because she was wearing “Last Slick,” its mascara. 

Gershon Harrell

Before a dinner outing with her friends, Betsy Garwood adds on the final product of her go-to makeup look. She squeezes a small tube of Glossier’s “Cloud Paint” onto her finger and dabs it on her cheeks. She’s going for an all-natural rosy complexion.

The 21-year-old senior graphic design major whips out her phone, snaps a couple selfies and hunts for her favorite photo. Garwood posts the selfie on Instagram and tags Glossier, the skincare and makeup company she works for as a brand representative.

On campuses across the country, brands are hiring Generation Z and millennial college students like Garwood to represent their products and engage with consumers on a personal level.

Riddle and Bloom is a company that focuses on connecting and helping brands build relationships with millennial and generation Z college students through internships.

According to its website, Riddle and Bloom “provided almost 2,000 internships that paid over $2 million to students in all 50 states from over 500 schools.”

Kent State is one of them.

Pamela Grimm, a marketing professor in the College of Business Administration, said a brand ambassador is someone who a brand hires to represent its products in some context.

“We’ve had a number of students who have been hired as brand ambassadors on campus by companies. … Red Bull hired somebody to be a brand ambassador, we’ve had brand ambassadors for Insomnia Cookies,” Grimm said.

The idea is for brands to find someone who is going to be social and have a strong influence, but who also aligns “with the psychographic and demographic of a brand,” she added.

Brands have a “personality, imagery and a tone,” said Wendy Wardell, an advertising professor at Kent State. Companies are looking for people who “live like the brand does.”

Wardell gives shoe company Vans as an example.

“When they’re looking for brand ambassadors, they’re going to look for people who have the same style and the same value system that the brand preaches, so they know it’s easier for them to speak about the brand,” Wardell said.

Because Garwood is a representative for Glossier, other brands have reached out to her. She said she averages three emails a week from brands asking her to represent their products. So far, Garwood has represented, Jansport, Skinesque, Reebok, Le Labo Fragrances and FUR Oil.

Garwood said these brands find her through “the algorithm on Instagram.”

She means that when brands see her posts on the app’s Discovery page, brands similar to Glossier or brands who can envision her as a face for their products will reach out to her.

“So someone looking is going to be like, ‘OK, you know what? She’s into this, and she’s posting for them, like, we admire their brand, we want to send her our face mask,’” she said.

Garwood said she always researches these brands and asks about the rules she has to follow when it comes to posting content.

“You can’t tag any other products. For that product, that’s my ad. I’m not going to tag Reebok and Adidas,” she said of advertising something like a makeup product.

Garwood said she can’t wear Adidas pants when she supposed to represent a pair of Nike shoes.

“You’ve just got to be brand-cautious and post-cautious,” she said.

College ambassadors of Bumble — a dating and friend-finding app that encourages women to make the first move — focus less on social media, and more on merchandise and events to get students to download the app.

Their main goal is to get more app downloads on campus, said Nicole Walker, a junior fashion merchandising major and a campus manager for Bumble.

In September, the ambassadors had a Bumble bar tap.

“We had $1,000 dollars worth of drinks at Water Street,” Walker said. “It was our first bar tap. All you had to do was download Bumble, swipe five times left or right and then you got a free drink ticket.”

Senior public relations major Katie Pavlick is a brand ambassador for Walt Disney Studios.

Over the summer, Pavlick interned with public relations company Allied Integrated Marketing, now called Allied Global Marketing, a company that focuses on the promotion of movies. Allied Global has clients from Walt Disney Studios, Paramount Pictures, 21st Century Film Corporation and Universal Pictures.

“At the end of the of the summer they asked me if I would want to be a Disney Studios ambassador because they know how much I love Disney, so my ambassador program is through Allied, and Disney is a client of Allied,” Pavlick said.

The first Disney she promoted was the “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.”

One of the reasons brands target Generation Z and millennials, specifically college students, is because they’re going to have the most spending power, and they are the future target audience for brands, Wardell said.

“When you think about it, there are some companies that are really targeted to this age group,” she said. “So Pink, Victoria’s Secret, American Eagle, Vans — there’s a lot of companies out there that really want this group of people to be loyal to them, and there’s no better way to reach them than to have somebody living with them day to day, talking about the brand.”

College students are a group of people coming together at an important time that makes them ripe for interpersonal communication, Grimm said.

“One of the reasons why you guys (college students) are targets (is) you are interacting socially, you’re in one place at one time, more or less, and you’re buying behavior changes, which makes you right for targeting,” she said.

Wardell said she’s seeing a trend in Generation Z students wanting to share their opinions — and now, they’re getting paid to do it.

“I have a relationship with the brand that other people don’t have, so I think that’s important to this generation,” Wardell said about the mentality brand ambassadors carry. “I have and get things that other people don’t have; I can share my opinion with other people, and they look to me to share my opinion with them; and I get paid for it.”

Even though Garwood is enthusiastic about her job, she said there are challenges that come with creative content and finding time to produce it. Between her 12 credit hours on campus and her job at digital media company ideastream, she said her days are planned out by the hour in order to keep up with being a brand representative. The only time Garwood has time to herself is when she’s getting ready to go to bed, she said.

If Garwood is going out with her friends, she said she’ll kill two birds with one stone. After getting ready, she’ll use the opportunity to take a photo of herself wearing a Glossier product and post it to Instagram.

“But if a company sends me clothes and I have to take pictures and have four looks for them, I’m like, “All right, I need quality content. This calls for an outside source,’” she said.

During her time at Kent State, Garwood got involved with Kent State University Independent Films, which she said put her in touch with videographers, photographers and a makeup artist to help her produce higher-quality content.

Garwood has been an ambassador for Glossier since October 2017, and she received an additional $2,000 when she posted a photo of herself in Florence, Italy, where she was studying abroad, wearing “Lash Slick.”

One day in London, she woke up to a tag from Glossier, which posted her photo, and she said her first thought was, “Oh, my (expletive) God.”

“It was crazy to have girls from all over the world (like my photo) because I was getting people from like London, Canada and Sweden buying through my link,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I touched those countries.’ People saw my face — like a million people.”

Gershon Harrell is a features writer. Contact him at [email protected]