Why Vitamin Shoppe hired nano-influencers for student-athlete ads
- Earlier this year, the NCAA granted college athletes the right to participate in advertising campaigns.
- The Vitamin Shoppe hosted its first student-athlete class this fall with 14 students across the United States.
- The company chose to work with athletes with fewer internet subscribers than mega stars.
On July 1, the NCAA updated its policies to allow student-athletes to earn money from their names, pictures, and likenesses (NILs), being a game-changer for players and brands.
When Hayden White, a senior at Louisiana State University, heard the news, he was cautiously optimistic. The 21-year-old plays golf for LSU, a sport whose athletes typically receive fewer NIL opportunities than their football and basketball counterparts, according to data compiled by athlete marketing platform Opendorse.
âOur team got a few things, but it’s just not as much as the football guys,â White said. “That’s where the bulk of the money comes from.”
White ended up signing a brand deal with retailer The Vitamin Shoppe in October through sports marketing platform OpenSponsorship.
With his relatively small audience, he was the perfect candidate for The Vitamin Shoppe’s first NIL campaign. The company was looking for student-athletes with fewer social media followers but very engaged fans, a strategy that is gaining traction in the marketing world.
âThe micro-influencer trend has become popular because when you get people with smaller followers, with smaller networks, the things they promote or suggest seem more authentic,â Dustin Elliott, director, told Insider. senior brand at The Vitamin Shoppe. .
Elliott worked with an account manager at OpenSponsorship to identify 14 student-athletes in a wide range of sports, from golf and cross-country to volleyball and cheerleading. All of the athletes had less than 10,000 Instagram followers.
The summary of his campaign was simple: âWe are looking for college athletes to post a post on social media in exchange for free products. We are considering longer term product offers if there is interest!â Wrote the society.
Students were given creative freedom for their Instagram posts. The only requirements were that they label The Vitamin Shoppe’s social grip and include appropriate advertising disclosures, an FTC guideline the company had to remind a few athletes of, Elliott said.
In return, each athlete received approximately $ 100 in free products, including a set of whey and vegetable protein, a True Athlete performance supplement, and a bottle of shake.
âThese athletes were not expected to immediately be able to convert these products into sales,â he said. “What we were looking for here was just engagement.”
The strategy of giving free items to student-athletes rather than cash is pretty typical in the new world of student-athlete marketing.
Despite a wave of media coverage of top athletes making five-figure deals, the majority of the over 460,000 college athletes in the United States are âmicroâ (typically less than 100,000 followers) or ânanoâ influencers. â(Generally less than 10,000). Many received free products or small cash payments rather than big paydays for their NIL promotions.
âA lot of our athletes follow an average of between 1,000 and 5,000,â OpenSponsorship founder Ishveen Anand told Insider in an interview in August. “Brands have more followers than these athletes.”
On White’s sponsored post, which garnered 128 likes, some of the engagement came from friends who jumped into the comments section to shed some light on his new influencer status.
“This whole NIL thing is new, so they’re like ‘Man, like you doing ads now?’ said Blanc.
Elliott said The Vitamin Shoppe plans to run a larger campaign with varsity athletes soon, as students become more experienced at
âThese athletes are all new to the concept,â he said. “They weren’t allowed to do that. So overnight they are eligible to be micro-influencers, but they may or may not have had any experience in the domain.”