Brands are hiring students, rather than celebrities, to sell their products


(Source: Jeanne Paulino)

Junior Jeanne Paulino’s Instagram post about Aerie’s bra drive. Companies have been hiring students like Paulino as brand ambassadors to promote products on college campuses.

Avi Varghese, Reporter

As Northwestern students scroll through their social media feeds, they may be noticing something odd — instead of seeing sponsored posts by celebrities, they’re seeing brands promoted by their friends.

In recent years, companies such as Aerie, Amazon and Google have launched campus brand ambassador programs that hire students to promote their goods on social media and through on-campus events.

“The people that I’ve interacted with knew something about Aerie, but they didn’t understand the message,” said Jeanne Paulino, Weinberg junior and Aerie ambassador. “I’ve helped to inform people (about) the Aerie brand.”

Students act as social media influencers, but unlike Instagram celebrities that promote products to tens of thousands of followers, these ambassadors are marketing to people that know them in real life.

Weinberg sophomore Surya Veeravalli is a brand ambassador for Southern Tide, a South Carolina-based clothing brand. Though the company is focused on coastal areas and has a Southern presence, they’re expanding to Northwestern as part of a push to diversify their image, Veeravalli said.

While Veeravalli applied to the program through the brand’s website, students like Paulino were contacted directly through social media apps like Instagram.

Prospective ambassadors are usually connected to brands through firms like Youth Marketing Connection, which helps to identify recruitment criteria for various brands based on customer profiles.

“We just find those students that fit that mold,” said Samantha Martin, YMC program strategist. “We recruit students who we already see as influencers on their campus, whether that’s having a very active social media presence or being involved in clubs and organizations.”

YMC, which has worked with brands like Google, Adidas and Spotify on a variety of on-campus pushes across other campuses, is currently working with Aerie — a subsidiary of American Eagle whose #AerieREAL campaign focuses on body positivity — on its ambassador and campus tour programs.

Aerie, which is in its second year of its Northwestern program, has three ambassadors on campus: Paulino, who coordinates events, Communication sophomore Sophia Blake, who manages photography, and Communication senior Ziare Paul-Emile, who handles promotional merchandise.

“The (Aerie) mission has touched home already for so many college-aged women, and it’s more just about getting it out to our community,” Blake said.

Aerie ambassadors have engaged with students during various events, including a bra drive for a homeless center, a barre lesson and a Giving Tuesday event.

While Aerie ambassadors are expected to post on social media once every two weeks, according to Blake, Veeravalli wasn’t given a strict number. He said he tries to make his content interesting rather than consistent.

“You could have 10,000 followers, but if people aren’t engaging with your pictures or people don’t like your content… then they don’t really want you as a brand ambassador,” Veeravalli said. “They’re not going to ask you for numbers. They’ll just look at the pictures, see if it represents their brand values and if it gets their name out there.”

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