Over the weekend, I stumbled across this gem on the NY Times. According to the article, the latest trend in corporatizing higher education is the “sponsored” move-in. An example they focused on quite a bit was American Eagle Outfitter’s sponsorship of this fall’s freshman move-in at UNC. The clothing company hired upperclassman to sport AE tee-shirts and hats and distribute schwag while helping freshmen move into their new dorms. These students (whose activities continue beyond move-in) even have official titles: “brand ambassadors” or “campus evangelists.”
Further down, the Times actually interviews administrators at UNC and discovers that they were unaware of the sponsorship. Naturally, the administrator they spoke too Winston B. Crisp (vice chancellor for student affairs and @vicecripsy on Twitter) expressed concern about turning move-in into a day-long corporate commercial event:
“They are not supposed to be using the opportunity to help people move in as a way of forwarding commercial ventures,” he said, standing near the cash registers at Target that evening, as upperclassmen handed out free VitaminWater, Combos and packages of macaroni and cheese. He added: “So it’s a bit of a dilemma.”
Oh! It seems Mr. Crisp is mostly upset because UNC had been arranging its own sponsored events around freshman move-in with Target since 2007! So, “using the opportunity to help people move in as a way of forwarding commercial ventures” is a problem EXCEPT when it’s been officially arranged by the office of student affairs. (And it involves VitaminWater and Combos.)
In his explanation of why UNC set up a midnight shopping trip for freshman at Target, Crisp explains that “It’s an opportunity for us to gather them together on a Saturday night in a healthy, safe environment while allowing another major corporate entity to further invade the space of higher education and create new, life-long customers who will promote their ‘brand’ and spend lots and lots of money. Really, it’s a teachable moment.” Okay, I lied. He didn’t actually say that last part.
Further down, there’s a money quote from UNC student Kiley Pontrelli:
“When you know that the company is not just there to get your money, they’re actually willing to, like, help you as an individual in whatever way possible, it makes you respect them a lot more,” Ms. Pontrelli says. “I’m definitely going to give American Eagle, like, a second thought when I go by next time.”
Once again, corporate America is helping educational institutions and students out of the goodness of their heart! They want to HELP students! As INDIVIDUALS! In WHATEVER WAY POSSIBLE! As long as said students can “engag[e] in real activities to move the needle on major brands.” That last quote is from Matt Britton, chief executive of Mr. Youth, a marketing agency who seems to consult with these companies that are looking for ways to help students . . .as individuals. . . in whatever way possible. . .oh, never mind.
(I didn’t actually know what “move the needle on major brands” meant. You know, because I’m a human being and not a marketer. So I Googled it. Here’s a site I found that actually explains this stupid cliche.)
I can’t decide what annoys me most: The companies that are creating “brand ambassadors” on college campuses because they know the power of peer pressure when it comes to getting young people to purchase stuff. The students who fall for this bullshit and think that these companies actually “care” about them. Or the colleges who are INVITING these businesses to become a part of students’ experiences because it allows them to provide “safe, healthy” student events.
Actually, the last one is the one that annoys me most.