Rock like Red Bull at Student Ambassador Marketing

Student ambassador marketing isn’t as simple as giving a motley crew of college students branded swag and then setting them loose on campus. This marketing strategy requires the perfect storm of vision, coordination, and patience to truly succeed.

Red Bull’s student ambassador program helped the company break into the college market and achieve double digit growth. Let’s take a look at why the energy drink brand succeeded where many other brands stumble.

1. Be a lifestyle, not a product

One of the first decisions Red Bull made was to advertise itself as part of a lifestyle, not as a standalone product. To nurture lifelong brand loyalty among college students, it was important for Red Bull to become an integral part of their daily routines.

First, the company sponsored extreme sports and music festivals nearby college campuses. The energy drink quickly became associated with the high-speed thrills of those events. This follows a similar path as brands like Burton and Quicksilver, which rose to prominence among snowboarders and surfers, according to lifestyle marketing expert and author C.G. Matos, co-author of Lifestyle Brands: The Elephant In The Room.

With that in place, Red Bull launched a student ambassador program called the Wings Team. The main goal of the Wings Team was to further associate Red Bull with spectacle and excitement. Student ambassadors dreamed up publicity stunts to attract attention, gave away free products to their peers, and generated social media buzz. Past Red Bull events have included air-dropping crates of drinks onto college campuses via helicopter, driving branded Mini Coopers crowned with oversized cans to parties, and dressing up as FedEx employees to deliver cans to students in class.

The bottom line: brands looking to mimic Red Bull’s success should also seek to participate in student’s lives rather than simply tout wares.

2. Have a purpose students can support

Red Bull has a purpose that many students empathize with: seek thrills, be yourself, and push boundaries. Its sports sponsorships are designed “to support a community of athletes,” Emmy Cortes, director of communications for Red Bull, told Fast Company, “and to bring credibility to the sports they compete in.”

The idea is that the product offers imbibers a boost of caffeine and taurine, an ingredient that, according to the Mayo Clinic may boost athletic performance, ostensibly giving them more energy to engage in these acts. Compare this approach to the more conservative marketing efforts that might stick with handing out free swag like t-shirts, Frisbees, and keychains. While free, that may not be exciting. When engaging students, it pays to invest in a purpose that they can get behind.

3.Brand ambassadors can guide strategy

Nobody knows how to communicate authentically to college students better than other college students. Red Bull gives its student ambassadors the resources and freedom to connect with their peers. 

According to the brand ambassador jobs page, Red Bull student ambassadors will “network with a global team” facilitated by a private portal called Red Bull U. There, student ambassadors decide on their own “missions,” share community tips, and coordinate with each other when visiting new territories.

In an interview, Alan VanTaoi, a former brand ambassador recalls that “We were all in there talking, sharing, and learning together,” adding “we’d brainstorm how to do like the local versions of the big events like Flutag.”

4. Recruit type-A extroverts

Red Bull’s ambassadors are known for being fun and approachable. The company hiring page describes seeking students with charisma and broad social networks who can be a “social chameleon.” As CrewFire writes, “If your brand ambassadors are passionate about the job and passionate about your brand, give them the opportunity to bring their friends into the fold.”

Red Bull relies on referrals and group interviews to find students who can best represent the brand. Once hired, students are asked to participate in try-outs where they shadow active brand ambassadors and mock-perform the job. Adjusting your recruiting process to select for type-A extroverts in this way is how Red Bull consistently achieves an energizing presence.

Red Bull’s brand ambassador program succeeds because it gives students the tools and community to leverage their own networks. According to an survey, 68% of students are very likely to tell their friends about their favorite student discount programs.

Learn more about how students talk about their favorite products and discounts here.