Companies seeking ‘authenticity’ hire UMN students

More students are becoming brand ambassadors as a way to boost their resumes.

by Luc Mainguy

Google, HBO, Bizzy Coffee and ACR Homes are just a few of the companies recruiting students to market their products on college campuses.

Drawn by the allure of big names on their resume, more University of Minnesota students are choosing to be brand ambassadors.

Companies hope that a student campus ambassador will bring authenticity to their marketing process, said Chris Nyland, vice president of brand partnerships at The Campus Agency, an advertising firm specializing in marketing to college students.

“In today’s day and age with social media marketing and influencer marketing, consumers, especially college consumers, are really starting to see through [it],” Nyland said.

The two most recent generations grew up in an era where they were steeped in marketing, and personal connection is vital to breaking through, he said.

“Because of all the different types of marketing and distractions that college students face in their everyday life, having that peer-to-peer marketing is still king,” Nyland said. “A college student will listen to their peer if they’re talking in a positive way and promoting something.” 

Students generally seemed to agree with this sentiment, though some felt their advertising efforts were ignored.

“I feel it’s much more relatable to have student ambassadors. It actually feels real,” said Bri Flasch, employed by The Campus Agency to advertise Google’s new Allo group messaging app.

She explained that the authenticity stemmed from ambassadors being, in Nyland’s words, “natural fans” of the product.

“People wouldn’t be student ambassadors if they didn’t really endorse the product,” Flasch said. 

However, not all ambassadors feel the messages are entirely genuine. Zach Simon, a former University student, said some brand ambassadors tag their marketing posts with “#ad.”

Simon said he understood the need to disclose his intentions when advertising, but he still enjoyed the experience. 

“At a bare bones level … I’d rather not be the mouthpiece of a brand because I’m not getting a lot out of it,” he said. “But you can have fun with it and still accomplish the goals [of the ambassador program].”

Elise Hartwig, another The Campus Agency brand ambassador advertising for Google, felt that promoting brands wasn’t much different from promoting clubs or her sorority.

She said she enjoyed not having to work at a desk and that the position had provided a notable resume boost.

“Ever since I changed my status on my LinkedIn, I’ve had numerous amounts of people reach out to me wanting to connect and congratulating me on the job,” Hartwig said.

Simon graduated last year, and now works at a local advertising firm. 

“The nice thing about it is that it was so flexible. You can do way less than a campus job or an internship or something and get pretty decent experience if you put a lot into it,” he said.

In retrospect, Simon said he found the job valuable as a stepping stone in his career, rather than for pay or experience.

“It’s the ultimate grunt position,” Simon said jokingly. 

When asked how he thought a corporate presence affects campus, he said he felt that many tune out most types of advertising.

“I feel like having corporate-sponsored events and corporate-sponsored entities on campus is nothing new, I mean we have Coca-Cola [branding] everywhere,” he said. “People just kind of notice it less.”