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So You Say You’re a Brand Ambassador?

by Fadra Nally on April 7, 2011

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.

nintendo-3ds

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-cookies

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?

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing. Really. This information is so useful, and you are so transparent and open. Posts like this really help to ease the tension between those who are brand ambassadors, and newbies who may be feeling like they don’t have a chance to ever break in.

    I have worked as an Ambassador on the Skinny Cow/Lean Cuisine 31 Day Challenge back in January through Collective Bias. It was a great experience. The “mandatory” commitment from me was minimal, but I was so excited and was so supported that naturally I went in 200%! I was paid for that, but there are some service and/or campaigns that I would definitely be an Ambassador for for free.

    • Anonymous

      Brandi – I would caution you to ever consider an ambassadorship for free. Our time, our writing, our opinions are extremely valuable to brands. You should always be compensated. Now, the question is, what is considered acceptable compensation? For some bloggers, it’s monetary only. In my situation, my compensation is primarily product. It’s a decision I weighed before giddily accepting the role.

      FREE is a term that professional bloggers need to get out of their vocabulary.

      • Anonymous

        I agree with you, Fadra. Free is probably the wrong word to use. What I’m thinking about is probably more in line with being an Advocate. Thank you!

  • http://alli-n-son.com Allison @ Alli ‘n Son

    I just accepted a brand ambassador position. This is new territory for the brand and for me. I’m hoping that it is beneficial to everyone involved. I havent officially started yet, but I will be compensated for my time, which I’m beyond thrilled about.

    • Anonymous

      I would certainly be selective about the company and the brand. But if it’s something you already feel passionate about, I think it’s a win-win for bloggers and businesses.

  • http://www.mommywords.com Brittany at Mommy Words

    I worked with Jessica as a Huggies Every Little Bottom ambassador and loved the experience. Not only am I passionate about the campaign, but we were all treated as professionals and compensated as such. I don’t know that I would require compensation for all campaigns but for the amount of work that is expected for large, ongoing campaigns I think it is fair and right. Part of it has to do with the expectations. If there are required duties and engagements as well as large amounts of consulting then we are doing a job. If we are invited to something as press and acting as ambassadors but without a long list of duties, the lines are not so clear. As you said, there are sometimes benefits other than monetary compensation. I think it is great to open up this discussion Fadra!

    • Anonymous

      Compensation is where it gets tricky. Compensation is money or product or perks. But I feel most brand representative positions should involve compensation. People are afraid sometime to talk about compensation because it may taint the purity of our endorsement. But as with other types of blogger activity, our compensation should be based on our time, our skills, and abilities.

  • CarissaRogers

    I think the whole thing is very interesting.
    I can’t think of a single ‘brand ambassador-ship’ that I worked on that was paid. Truly paid. However the handful of paid/client jobs I have done and currently do don’t seem to fall under Brand Ambassador… Makes me think there is an inbetween there… the place where you move over from Ambassador to paid consultant… Like a definition change ya know??
    And there’s always the issue of product vs cash and whether you consider that to be paid compensation. Heck. Does the Gov’t consider that paid compensation?

    • Anonymous

      Personally, I think “ambassador” is a nice sounding term that just isn’t clearly defined. It makes a blogger feel good to have a title. But because every brand seems to use them differently and compensate differently, it’s a term that isn’t consistently used. Perhaps the in between should be called “Paid Opinionator”? I’d apply for that job.

  • http://www.1099mom.com Linseyk

    Great conversation! I found this post from an incoming link from your sidebar. I have just accepted a new brand ambassador position with a company that I LOVE. I have found that I can’t do a project with passion if I don’t think the project is a great fit for me. I go into a little more detail in my recent post about what it takes to be a brand ambassador: http://www.1099mom.com/2011/04/i-want-to-be-brand-ambassador.html

    Would love your thoughts! (Thanks for the sidebar linkies!)

    • Anonymous

      I’m so glad that you brought up the “great fit” part of being an ambassador. That’s something that companies CAN’T buy and the more they look for bloggers that align with their branding, the more beneficial the relationship will be all the way around.

      Glad to link to you! As I find interesting and relevant articles on the business of blogging, I try to highlight them. Yours came compliments of Kelly Whalen (@centsiblelife).

      Now – heading over to read more detail…

      • http://www.1099mom.com Linseyk

        Awww.. gotta love that Kelly ;)

  • Anonymous

    Interesting post! I’m on the marketing side of things. In fact, we just concluded a search on behalf of a company for brand ambassadors. It’s a compensated position and the bloggers will be contributing to the brand’s web site and are not required to post about it on their own blogs – unless they want to of course. I think brand ambassadorships have to be a win-win for both bloggers and brands. Brands see value in working with consumers that love their products/services. Of course there are instances when companies choose to not monetarily compensate bloggers for their time, and the blogger should think about the time investment and decide if it’s worth pursuing.

    I also think the brand needs to ask: “Do I want this individual representing my company?” On the flip side, the blogger needs to look at: “Do I want to represent this company? Is this something I’m truly passionate about?”

    In essence, brands want to work with people that are passionate about the brand. That’s what makes a true ambassador.

    This is still a relatively new territory and we are all figuring out best practices and what works, what doesn’t work. At the end of the day, it’s your blog, your time, and your decision. Know what you are getting into before signing up for an ambassadorship. It’s okay to ask questions and get the answers you need before making a decision.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for your point of view. I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s good for people to know that it’s usually a contracted position and it’s important to ask what you can and can’t do, especially when it comes to content.

      As far as your comment about brands and bloggers wanting to represent each other… this can be a tough one and a topic I hope to delve into more. When the personality and/or language of a blogger, or even online behavior, doesn’t coincide with what corporate marketing is used to, will problems arise? And will those types of things keep certain brands away from bloggers?

      See, now you’re making me think…

  • http://twitter.com/geekbabe Jean Parks

    ok, I was green reading all about the weekend but seeing those Nintendo cookies has sent me over the edge! oh my God, that is soo freaking geeky col! huge congrats to you! Nintendo couldn’t have picked a better woman to be a brand ambassador for them

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  • Life with Kaishon

     I am not a super big fan of bloggers that do this. I understand why a person would, I just find that once bloggers do this, I pretty much stop reading their blogs. I don’t know what it is about it that turns me off. I will say the blogs I have quit reading because of this were blogs I was never really invested in to begin with. I just went once in a while. Now I don’t go. Great post though.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, great post! I just did this survey that I hope to publish the results to shortly but maybe you could take it? http://greenandcleanmom.org/blogger-ambassador-survey/

    • Anonymous

      You know, I saw that tweeted out and starred it to go back to it later.
      Thanks for the reminder. I just finished your survey!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000266761377 Cal Lee

    I am paid actually as a brand ambassador/model. In fact I have managed several programs for Nintendo as well as a Chicago, IL Flash Mob Stunt as seen on youtube. I am on facebook.com/idkblack

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