In her second vlog for Her Campus's New Balance "Fit for School" Campus Fitness Challenge, Emerson senior Cassidy Quinn Brettler sits on a gray couch against a plain white wall. She stares directly into the camera trained at her face. A box rests on her lap.
"I was just checking my mail like normal, and I had three packages from New Balance filled with all kinds of stuff!" Brettler says. Her wide eyes and quavering voice make her seem alarmed. She begins extracting workout wear from the box, piece by piece, in accordance with the formal conventions of a YouTube genre known as the haul.
"We have these lovely shoes," she says, holding up a pair of gray kicks. "They have some pink on them, which is my favorite color. They're very pretty — nice and girly — with flowers on the inside." Her manicured eyebrows waggle up and down as she runs a finger over the mesh uppers.
"All in all, lots of cool stuff," Brettler says when she exhausts the box's contents. "But what was the first thing I did when it came? No, not work out." She leans forward conspiratorially; the eyebrows shoot skyward. "A fashion show!" The opening strains of "I'm Too Sexy" play over a shot of Brettler in her apartment hallway. She poses and lunges in time with the music, in an array of outfits, for nearly three minutes.
Five weeks and 20 vlogs later, Brettler beat out five other girls to win the Campus Fitness Challenge. Her take: a year's worth of New Balance merchandise valued at $1,200.
Brettler and the competitors she bested are known, in marketing parlance, as brand ambassadors. They animate a brand by embodying the values a company wishes to invest in it. Since it launched in September 2009, the Harvard undergrad online magazine Her Campus has mastered the art of deriving revenue from the relationships people like Brettler have with certain products. In addition to hosting the Fitness Challenge with New Balance, the site conducted a wide-ranging search for the Juicy Sisterhood, a trio of sorority girls to represent Juicy Couture.
"People have blocked out ads entirely," says Windsor Hanger, Her Campus's 22-year-old publisher and president. Hanger, who competed in beauty pageants three out of her four years at Harvard, solicits corporate partnerships from those who wish to target college women. "Companies are cutting back their advertising funds," she says. "If they're going to spend a dollar on you, they better get a pretty good return."
When the Pinkberry frozen-yogurt store opened on Newbury Street in early November, Her Campus got the word out. In addition to ads on the site and targeted social media, Hanger blogged about it. "So Much Fun at the Pinkberry Boston Launch Party!" described how Her Campus staffers got VIP yogurt access with "all the Pinkberry we could eat and sips of champagne."
"I love frozen yogurt! Wish I could have been there!!" read a comment from Jessica Chen. "I AM SO JEALOUS!!!!!!!!!" wrote Sophie Jasinki. Chen and Jasinki back up Her Campus CEO and editor in chief Stephanie Kaplan's assessment of the site as the perfect platform to market brands that its readers care about anyway. "We have this readership that trusts us, that listens to us, that's tuned in," the 22-year-old says.