Companies hire students to advertise goods at NU

Alexandra Finkel

In September, Carolyn McCoy received a Facebook message inviting her to apply for a job with Avon’s Mark cosmetics.

“I was wary at first because it seemed kind of sketchy,” the Communication senior said. “But I looked on the Web site and saw that it was a legit company. I mean, Lauren Conrad is their spokeswoman.”

And with that, McCoy joined the legion of campus representatives selected by companies like Starbucks, Apple and Lipton to pitch products to their fellow students. The pay varies, but companies generally give lots of perks, and with good reason – companies say college students are one of their most valued demographics.

McCoy began her job as a Mark campus sales manager this quarter, supervising 12 other Northwestern campus representatives, commonly dubbed “reps.” Reps pay $20 to create an online e-boutique of their favorite products and then advertise the brand whenever and wherever they want. They receive a 40 percent commission on anything sold online and also get an additional 40 percent off all Mark makeup products.

McCoy’s position also entitles her to an extra $50 a week if her reps make a sale.

“I think the reason they’re trying to get college students involved is because we are a really important demographic to target,” she said. “And what better way to do this than by getting students’ peers to plan promotional events and free giveaways across campus?”

Companies know exactly what they’re doing when they hire students as sales reps, said Ashlee Humphreys, an Integrated Marketing Communications professor.

“The sales reps become brand evangelists in a certain way,” she said. “Not only do they get the word out about the product, but the sales force is also a huge part of their customer base.”

Kaila Mueller said since she became a campus rep for American Rag, nearly everything she owns comes from the clothing brand. Her drawers are filled, and the bed in her small dorm room is covered with four huge boxes of clothing ready to be given away. The Weinberg sophomore was also contacted through Facebook over the summer to work for the brand as a campus rep.

Mueller wears the clothing daily to promote the brand but also plans three to four events every quarter, including a fashion show at the 1800 Club and a discount shopping event at the Old Orchard Center Macy’s.

“It’s a really ideal job for a college student,” Mueller said. “I’m getting paid to wear cute clothes, but I’m also getting valuable experience in marketing and event planning, which is what I want to go into.”

But as with any marketing decision, there are trade-offs to companies using sales reps to sell their products, Humphreys said.

“It doesn’t seem particularly authentic to pay people to advertise for you,” she said. “From a marketing perspective, it can be perceived as fake.”

But Humphreys said it’s a good opportunity for students on campus.

“As much as companies are using these students for their own benefit, students are using the company just as much,” she said.

McCoy said she thinks she’ll stay with mark, even though her job ends in December.

“Perhaps we are corporate tools, but at least we like the product and we’re getting paid for not doing a whole lot,” she said. “It’s a win-win situation.”

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