February 1, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 17°F


Dorm-to-Dorm Salesmen

Sophomore Jen Segal’s room looks like almost any other dorm at Ithaca College — a few posters on the wall, a desk neatly organized in the corner and cheetah print sheets.

Photo illustration by Michelle Boulé

But underneath her bed looks a little different. Segal unpacks a large box stuffed with blue, lime green and neon orange drawstring bags, each with a “Microsoft U” logo on the front. Out comes another box, this time packed with dozens of red Campusfood plastic cups, pens and bumper stickers.

A new laptop sits on her desk. The Microsoft tent, which is taller than Segal, is crammed in the back behind the boxes.

Segal works as a brand ambassador, a student representative for companies like Cash4Books.net, the Princeton Review and Campusfood.com. She markets products from these companies directly to students on campus. In return,  she, like most student representatives, receives competitive pay, hands-on marketing experience and free merchandise.

The effort is one of the latest marketing techniques that large corporations are using to reach a younger demographic.

“The concept itself is really selling itself,” Segal said. “It’s a great way for companies to use people who know their school and know their audience.”

Segal is the president of a group of interns and ambassadors at the college for Campusfood.com, for which she organizes campus events and hands out free coupons and merchandise.

This semester, Segal is also working as a college ambassador for Microsoft, an effort which she said she expects will be a challenge to market at the college.

“This is an Apple campus, essentially, and it’s going to be a project,” she said.

Segal said she was introduced to the ambassador idea when a classmate spoke about her experience during her Introduction to Strategic Communication class. After researching several ambassador programs, she decided to contact companies that specifically targeted college students.

Michael McCall, marketing professor at the college, said firms choose students to market their products on a college campus because students are more likely to listen to their peers, and the company has a large population of a similar demographic in one place.

“Your friends can get you to do something that strangers can’t,” he said.

For Campusfood.com, the idea is similar. Mickey Katz, campus marketing manager at Campusfood.com, said the company employs about 100 college ambassadors nationwide to create brand awareness and remind students that they have another option besides dining hall food.

“The best way to reach out to them would be to have their own peers explain to them the product in a way they can understand it and a way that’s going to get them to get back on our website,” Katz said.

McCall said companies are ultimately looking to transform students who are “novice” shoppers into loyal customers.

Junior Megan Morelli marketed Proctor and Gamble personal care and cleaning products to students at the college last year for ReadyU, a company that supplies students with products like laundry detergent, shampoo and batteries.

Morelli said the company assigned her an event to organize and a product, which ranged from Pantene shampoo to Cheer detergent, to market every few weeks. She took pictures and created videos of students posing with the product and posted them to the company’s Facebook page.

Besides the free merchandise, some big companies, like Verizon, offer students $132 per week.

This semester, Morelli plans to market iChill,  a stress reliever drink with similar packaging to the popular 5-Hour Energy Drink, to the campus community.

But marketing a company at a small, private school like the college can be a challenge.

Morelli said student ambassadors at larger schools would use tailgating or Greek events as an opportunity to reach a wide audience, but since the college has no official Greek life, she has to be more creative.

Katz said Campusfood has found success in collaborating with student clubs and events, like Ithacapella performances.

“We found a lot of opportunity to get involved directly with student organizations, as opposed to running our own organic programming just based on the regulations of the university,” Katz said. “Some schools are so large, we’re able to get on the campus and run our own programming with no issue at all.”

According to the college’s policy manual, off-campus groups must obtain a permit from Campus Center and Event Services to advertise and must find an on-campus organization to partner with in order to solicit on campus.

Junior Jackie Levine, a brand ambassador for My UniUni, a new company that sells clothing and beauty products at a discounted price, said it can be difficult to navigate the college’s solicitation policies, but the experience is ultimately preparing her to achieve her goal of managing a larger brand after college.

“It’s not easy because there’s so many different levels I have to go through,” she said. “I have to get approvals from this person and that person has to get an approval from somebody else, so I learn on a small scale what I’m going to have to deal with once I actually do this.”

U.S. News & World Report ranked the brand ambassador second out of the top ten résumé enhancing jobs for college students.

Segal said she earns more than she did at the on-campus job she held last year. But more importantly, she said, being a brand ambassador allows her to get internship experience
on campus.

“It was a great way to get an exposure in marketing, to get paid, to get free stuff, learn about the campus and plan events — just all the things that are integral to my major,” she said.

Levine said being a representative not only connects her with a brand, but also with her peers.

“People see me as the My UniUni girl now, so it’s nice to have a little bit of an attachment to my name,” she said.