Erin Cunningham is University Chic blogger and underclassman at George Washington University. The following is a student's perspective on the recent consumer branding and promotion push invading college campuses across the country.
On any given day, I'll usually overhear snippets of conversation about the latest and greatest products, previews, and promotions building buzz on campus. Whether we realize it or not, the current generation of young adults has become a key demo for brands hoping to increase their "cool factor" with the youth target market. Between laptop companies competing to become the most utilized in college libraries to clothing labels hoping to secure new shopper's by offering discounts and special deals, WE are more coveted than the things we actually covet.
And it seems like the marketing swell never ends. From free samplings of Kentucky Fried Chicken and Lipton Iced Tea to brand integration by clothing labels like Madewell and PINK, schools around the country have become less of the target and more of the inspiration for new product launches and consumer program initiatives. The question remains, why college students and why now?
According to Jennifer Balyint, National Sales and Marketing Manager for UD on Campus, a college marketing and promotional specialists company, "College students are more apt to sample a new product. If you can have a student sample your product as a freshman or sophomore, by the time they graduate they will be more likely to buy the product."
UD on Campus represents clients such as Colgate, Showtime Network, and AKU, and utilizes college ambassadors to expand product awareness. With two college student representatives in over forty-five states, UD on Campus has taken the art of shiling to whole new levels. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, student brand ambassadors promoted the Colgate Wisp (a miniature disposable toothbrush) through a variety of initiatives. From passing out the product at tailgating events to t-shirts designed by each ambassador that individually represented each campus, Colgate's goal was to reach students on their own turf, Balyint explains. Similarly, Showtime recently partnered with the Alpha Delta Pi sorority at Chapel Hill to host the Season 5 premiere of popular television show Dexter on the house's front lawn. In conjunction with free food and giveaways, campus-ambassadors passed around petitions for students to sign to get the Showtime Network onto their campus television channels.
While these only serve as few examples of different initiatives companies have taken to connect with college students, others are adding a educational twist to their programs to demonstrate their goals are less self-serving and more self-empowering. For instance, Teen Vogue and Clinique saw their innovative "Fresh Faces Tour" as a way to assist college students in maximizing their individual potential and boosting self-confidence.
"When you're 18, 19, or 20, you're still learning about your sense of style, the best way to put yourself together," asserts Teen Vogue Beauty Director Eva Chen. This year, the second annual "Fresh Faces Tour" added a new aspect to its endeavor: career planning. Teen Vogue used the tour as an opportunity to share internship tips and offer up insights on breaking into the media and journalism fields, while Clinique provided product samples, makeovers, and advice on looking your best for job interviews. Since the college demographic is a large part of the Teen Vogue market, the tour "was never about selling the products, but more about having the students meet Teen Vogue and Clinique," Chen explains.
While these strategic product "meet-and-greets" continue to grow in popularity, the notion that college students will offer long-term brand loyalty remains questionable at least in my mind. Certainly companies like Apple and Facebook have proven that their products make for an easy transition into adulthood, but what about the many fast food, condom, and credit cards that try to convince our generation that immediate gratification is ours for the taking?
If the current recession has taught us anything, it's that while we may aspire to have all these things now, life has become a bit of waiting game as we struggle to find jobs, pay off our student loan debts and come to grips with the fact that we might not do as well as our parents. Brand recognition? Sure - that's free. Brand retention? Well, what's in it for me besides a free sample and a one-time coupon?
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