I’m not here to define what a brand ambassador is because it has a ridiculously different amount of meanings depending on the context in which it’s used. For example, street teams, or grassroots marketing, has evolved into an actual paying job called a brand ambassador. There are people that do this for a living. They promote a brand.
Now, that job has a new outlet in terms of the blogging world. More and more bloggers are looking for the sought-after title of brand ambassador. I’m not even sure if it matters what brand it is.
So what makes a brand ambassador? Deb Ng did an excellent job defining the differences between being a product reviewer, writer of a sponsored post, and a brand ambassador, especially as it refers to compensation. I’ve done all three and enjoy all three in their own rights. But yes, being a brand ambassador has a way of making you feel just a wee bit special.
Over the weekend, I was invited to attend the Nintendo 3DS Summit in Seattle, Washington as a brand ambassador. I tweeted about it using the official brand ambassador hashtag, #NintendoEnthused. As a result, I received a lot of tweets:
Where are you?
How did you get to go?
Did you have to pay for the trip?
My simple answer was that I am a Nintendo Brand Ambassador and I was invited to go. But the real question is, how did that relationship come about and what does it really mean?
Last fall, I was contacted by Brand About Town regarding an opportunity with Nintendo. They were looking to bring a health and fitness program to Raleigh and asked if I was interested in interviewing for the opportunity to help host. Frankly, I approached the email with typical skepticism. I glanced at the email figuring I’d come back to it later.
After I re-read the email, I realized this was an opportunity. A real opportunity. They really had read my blog and really did think I was a good fit. It wasn’t just a cut and paste email. I met with the PR rep who flew to town the next week. We talked about what an ambassadorship meant and what the upcoming opportunities were about.
I set about to co-host an event sponsored by the American Heart Association and Nintendo Wii Fit Plus. I invited guests to attend, I tweeted about it, but generally the enthusiasm I shared online and through my blog was my own. Not required, not expected, but most likely, very anticipated.
I was thrilled to talk about the Wii as I was already a fan. I was even more thrilled with the introduction of several new, active games. I wrote about it – the event, the gaming system, the games. A few weeks later, I incorporated my gaming skills into a video I included on a post about fitness.
Since that time, I’ve given away a Wii, given away Super Mario Bros. 25th Anniversary, and engaged in a friendly online competition on Mario Sports Mix. The giveaways were not the traditional product giveaways that you find on many blogs. These were personal gifts to people we felt would be impacted by the gift. I like that.
Nintendo is clearly a company that understand word-of-mouth marketing. In fact, their brand ambassador summit was filled with a diverse group of influencers. Some were missionaries, some were YouTubers, some were family ambassadors, and many were bloggers. The one thing we did have in common was a love of the company and their games.
As brand ambassadors, we were given VIP treatment including a look at the new Nintendo 3DS and its games, a building headquarters tour, and a little Nintendo shopping money. We were wined and dined in a way that felt more like a reward than a bribe. And in the end, I flew home feeling excited about the product and enamoured of the company.
Now that I’m following the 100 or so other Nintendo brand ambassadors, I also felt a bit of pressure to post about my experience, which I happily did and I’m admittedly even more excited to continue working with Nintendo.
Have I fallen into the trap of being an unpaid spokesperson for Nintendo? Some may argue yes. It is an unpaid position. However, I do feel compensated for my time and opinions and I actually enjoy evangelizing about products that I like. I am satisfied with the relationship. Not everyone is in the same boat.
One blogger confessed to embarking on the wrong journey: “I was a ‘brand ambassador’ for a company that had no clue what they were doing. I stopped responding to their emails.”
Jessica McFadden, over at A Parent in Silver Spring, emphatically insists that compensation needs to go beyond free product: “For me, it’s about representing a cause or product that I’m passionate about, being compensated for my communications and consulting at fair market value, and being treated with respect as a colleague, rather than a marketing tool.”
She should know. She has been a blog ambassador for Huggies Every Little Bottom campaign and is currently a ConAgra Foods Child Hunger Ends Here blogger/ambassador. “Both programs have helped families in need, thus I felt good about lending my name and voice to the causes, and both of these major brands treat(ed) their blog ambassadors as professional writers and consultants.”
Lolli Franklin, of Better in Bulk, has had mixed experiences: “I have been a brand ambassador for brands that have ‘gotten it’ and those who have not. My most successful, fulfilling, and long term ambassador experience has been with the Pepperidge Farm Fishful Thinking program. I started out in Spring 2009 as an unpaid ‘positive parenting’ ambassador with them and had such a good experience that I was hired as one of their 10 faculty moms in Fall 2009. The program has changed a lot in the 3 years that it has been running, but my experiences working closely with Pepperidge Farm, Mr Youth, Dr. Karen Reivich, the psychologist involved in the program, and my fellow faculty moms, has been incredible. Yes, we do have contracts, responsibilities, and monthly compensation. It’s all very organized and professional.”
If you are a blogger, tell me about your brand ambassador experiences, both good and bad. If you are a brand or company, tell me how this type of marketing is viewed in your business. Do you get your return on investment?