Student billboards

Oct. 26, 2011, 3:02 a.m.

Stanford’s campus is a place for many activities: learning, socializing, partying and –advertising? Companies ranging from small startups to industry leaders employ student brand ambassadors to promote their brands on campus, whether this means wearing their brand’s t-shirt, handing out free products or organizing events on campus.

Student billboards
(ALEX BAYER/The Stanford Daily)

Ashley Lyle ’13 is one of two brand ambassadors for Victoria’s Secret’s sub-brand, PINK.

“What was very appealing to me about PINK was that the brand wasn’t only promoting clothes and lingerie, but it was promoting a lifestyle,” Lyle said. “Their marketing efforts are all about getting people excited about PINK and creating this ‘PINK girl’: Who is she? What does she do? Where are the places that she goes to?”

As a campus representative, one of her main responsibilities is to wear the free clothes that she receives around campus. Lyle was flown to the Victoria’s Secret headquarters for training by the company.

“They gave us four or five outfits, pretty expensive outfits. They were just handing us stuff,” Lyle said. “We personally get a lot of stuff because of course you want to be promoting PINK all the time.”

Lyle, however, isn’t the only student who benefits from her PINK ambassadorship at Stanford. Earlier this year, she helped the sorority Alpha Epsilon Phi work with Victoria’s Secret PINK to put on a Zumba event and raffle off PINK attire, where she gave away pieces of eight yoga outfits. Winners of the grand prize received full yoga outfits. She also gives away make up bags, pens and fake tattoos to promote the brand.

Pedro Gardete, marketing professor at the Graduate School of Business (GSB), cited several reasons why companies would like to target universities like Stanford.

“Colleges have concentrations of people of a certain demographic, so if you want to target them…you have this campus [where] it’s easy to do that,” he said. “If you’re trying to make some impact in the market, you can get consumers to get used to your brand early so that you can have future benefits.”

Gardete noted that although many students don’t have personal incomes, companies rely on the parents giving their college-age students disposable income.

“We see the embodiment of the brand in the person, and the person shares a lot of the same characteristics as the rest of the students,” Gardete said. “They’re the same age, at the same campus…so what the person says about a brand will be much more credible than if it were coming from a stranger.”

Kian Torabian ’13, brand ambassador for startup car-sharing company Wheelz, tries to lend his brand that credibility, in return for gaining the work experience.

When Torabian found out about Wheelz, he contacted the company to ask if they needed a brand ambassador, which he committed in exchange for guidance on designing websites and learning the programming language.

Torabian arrived on campus two weeks early to start working for Wheelz. He started programming for its website as well as drawing up a plan to “attack NSO with a bunch of little strategies,” including handing out Wheelz coupons to freshmen in their dorms and driving freshmen up the hill to President John Hennessy’s home.

As a brand ambassador for a smaller startup instead of a well-known company, Torabian has to deal with obstacles that ambassadors of bigger brands like PINK don’t have to be as concerned about. He claims administrators rebuffed Wheelz when it attempted to expand its presence on campus.

“Wheelz…asked how involved we can be on campus, like setting up tables at fairs,” Torabian said. “They basically said since you’re so young and we already have Zipcar, it’s kind of a risk to take you on. So establish yourself and we’ll talk later.”

Lyle wasn’t faced with the same opposition as Torabian when approaching Stanford about representing PINK, but she still has guidelines to follow.

“Being a brand ambassador has shown me how cautious Stanford is when it comes to who it allows its name to be associated with,” Lyle said.

Susan Weinstein, assistant vice provost for business development, described the University’s approach to student brand ambassadors.

“Students are welcome to engage in any employment activity they wish so long as these activities are consistent with Stanford’s policies…No one should be using Stanford’s name or resources without University approval,” she wrote in an email to The Daily.

Regardless of restrictions, however, student brand representatives said they enjoyed free wares, perks and a sense of making a tangible difference.

“I feel like we’ve gotten people more excited and curious about [Victoria’s Secret],” Lyle said. “It’s like a frenzy! And we’re definitely happy to participate in that frenzy.”


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