- Published: September 16, 2011
On Campus, It’s One Big Commercial (New York Times)
It is probably not a huge surprise for many college students to learn that campuses are hotbeds for marketers. Aside from books and basic school supplies, each year college students spend billions of dollars on fashion, food, furnishings, and much more.
For marketers, one of the key attractions of colleges is the access these venues offer to a large number of customers within a geographically concentrated area. The potential of this market has caught the attention of a surprisingly large number of companies who see tremendous opportunity.
As discussed in this story, marketers are now flooding campuses and recruiting students to be part of their promotional army. However, companies are finding that reaching college students may require more than just advertising in the student newspaper or handing out samples in high-traffic areas. Because college students tend to be difficult to pin down to specific brands and are also often suspicious of the motives of those who are promoting, companies find that to reach this market requires creativity. For instance, American Eagle Outfitters hires "student ambassadors" to help unload and haul the belongs of newly arriving students while Target sponsors welcome-to-school dinners.
In addition to the size of this market, another reason marketers have become so aggressive on college campuses is due to the large supply of readily available promoters. In almost all examples cited in this story, those promoting the products are not full-time employees of the company but temporary hires working on commission. And the commission may not even be in the form of cash, it may, instead, be free product. But for many of these students the real value they are receiving from their work is that it helps build up the job experience section of their resume.
This fall, an estimated 10,000 American college students will be working on hundreds of campuses — for cash, swag, job experience or all three — marketing everything from Red Bull to Hewlett-Packard PCs. For the companies hiring them, the motivation is clear: college students spent about $36 billion on things like clothing, computers and cellphones during the 2010-11 school year alone, according to projections from Re:Fuel, a media and promotions firm specializing in the youth market.
What are the potential risks facing marketers who use college students as promoters of their brand?