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October 5, 2009 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Sign me up to be a Student Sell-Out

Money: we never have enough of it. Salient writer Josh Cleary investigates the chances of a sponsored degree.

Before we continue I have been asked to furnish this article with a precursor. Don’t ask any of the companies mentioned in this article for sponsorship. That’s from them. From me, some of these people are friends of mine and they were annoyed with me hassling them about their policies on giving out money. I doubt it will go much better for complete strangers on the strength of an article in Salient.

It costs a lot of money to be a student. Actually, realistically it costs a lot of money to be anything. Except being a bum. I understand the price of your pride and dignity only hurts for the first year. After that it is smooth sailing downhill into brain death and toxic inebriation. But this isn’t the Listener and I’m not trying to stroke the middle class ego with soliloquies about the difficulties inherent in being white, employed, car-owning and fed. Students are constantly in debt. Just by virtue of being students we get into more debt for every day of higher education we receive. So what can we do about this?

We are professional students working towards becoming productive professionals who give back to the field we are being trained in. What happens with real professionals in the real world?

They get sponsored.

So let’s talk about sponsorship for a minute here. “Wait!” I hear you cry, “Only pro athletes get sponsored, and while I’m pretty awesome at Halo and Tweeting like fuckery I’m pretty sure no one will pay me to do this.” Maybe. In fairness the companies aren’t really interested in what you do with your down time. They are interested in what you are studying and what you are going to be when you get done with the halls of learning. Sponsorship is about investment. They sponsor the people they do because they expect a return. You sponsor a sports team because you expect the fans of the team will buy branded gear. The gear you make. And there are lots more fans than players. Say one in five fans buys your product. That is potentially a lot of people buying your stuff off you because you invested in a small number of high profile people. Return on investment much?

So why should companies sponsor you for being a student? Well, let’s see. You can be a walking talking billboard for them. You are currently (assuming your part of Victoria’s illustrious student body) one of c22,000 students attending this august institution. Obviously it wouldn’t be practical to try to dance around in front of all of the rest of the student body. So let’s examine it from the perspective of which school you are majoring in. Architecture & Design has c1400 students. Commerce has c5000. Education scrapes in with just fewer than 1000 students. Humanities and Social Sciences is the heavy weight swinging in with c12400 warm bodies. Law and Science have c1900 and c2600 respectively. So that’s roughly how many people will be exposed to your ham-fisted advertising pitches. Is this enough to get you sponsorship?

In an attempt to be even-handed with the investigation, I canvassed a few companies that collectively ticked off most of our basic needs. We all need liquid refreshment so I got in touch with Coca-Cola and Phoenix Organics. I also tried to touch base with Red Bull. In fairness, at least at Red Bull they had a person I could talk to even though they didn’t have anything to say. At Coke on the other hand, it would appear that they have managed to find call center workers who are even more obtuse than the Bangladeshi model so expertly employed by their telecommunicating cousins. It would appear that for the most part they don’t understand English. Or at least have a very selective hearing filter built into their job training with a Pavlovian model of behavior cued to certain words. For example:

Call Centre: “…We send you a form when you are applying for sponsorship.”

Me: “Okay. I’m not actually applying for sponsorship. I just want to talk to someone about sponsorship.”

CC: “So did you have an event or something that you wanted sponsored…?”

Me: “No, I’m writing an article about sponsorship… I don’t want to apply for sponsorship.”

CC: “Because we have to send you a form for you to fill out for sponsorship.”

Me: [Cue sounds of me slamming my head against the desk and roundly cursing the call centre workers’ parents for both being siblings and for not drowning their spawn at birth.]

At Phoenix, however, they were exceedingly helpful. They were very patient in explaining they did indeed have a sponsorship program in place, but they weren’t really interested in sponsoring a student. They carefully explained they had a set of core values their sponsorship needed to uphold. They also wanted the sponsorship to be focused on areas where they could potentially push sales of their products.

The inference here clearly being students are not a sexy addition to the Phoenix brand image and obviously we are all too poor to buy enough of their products to make enough of a difference in figures.

So I struck out on liquid refreshment. It should be noted I was exploring the possibility of getting sponsored by an alcoholic beverage brand. It was then pointed out to me that calling them while drunk and listening to ‘Alkaholik’ by Xzibit at ear-drum shattering levels might put them in mind to say no. It was also mentioned it would behoove me to recall the news stories about our student brethren further south and their alcohol fueled shenanigans.

Moving on.

As students, it is to our benefit to show up to class clothed. Public indecency charges notwithstanding it is incredibly cold in the shade on a good day. So I set off to intrepidly discover whether we, the student body, could be clothed for the low price of our integrity.

I am a big fan of wearing sweet gear, most notably skinny jeans and hoodies. There are a few brands that are able to further this aim so I went to the closest one. ALC Clothing with their HQ on Cuba Street. The capo de capi was gracious enough to speak with me in the back offices. I put him to the question. Guy pointed out that ALC also has a sponsorship ethos they keep to. They are big backers of the skating community, and as such their skate team floss a stack of their gear in skate mags and DVDs a whole lot. “The skaters… they’re really busting their arse for the label and they get quite a bit of clothing for it…with [representatives of other areas] we have to be concerned about exposure…” Seems pretty reasonable.

ALC clothing also has a programme in place supporting up-and-coming artists and designers. You go to them with designs, if they like what they see they print up the shirts. The artist gets a cut of each T sold and the benefits just keep expanding from there. They also help out some bands, but there is an enormous clamour for their support. As such the brand has to be very picky about what they support with product. Their direct cash injections are focused on direct advertising, as opposed to peripheral marketing.

After some careful investigative journalism (I think I spent like an hour on the net. That’s equivalent to like four weeks of pounding pavements, right?) I discovered the deal with Huffer’s student sponsorship deals. You can get sponsored by them if you fuck off. Overseas, that is. And it’s not so much sponsorship as brand-ambassadorship. If you’re going to study in a market where they have a low profile then you could probably swing some sponsorship from them. So if you’re heading to Africa to study see if Durex will sponsor you. If you’re headed to Kuwait to study see if Lion Nathan will give you a financial leg up (That’s a smart joke. You figure it out).

So approaching private companies doesn’t seem to work. Or at least not if you want to stay in this country. After careful investigation into VUW policy we can’t call corporate scholarships sponsorship either. Apparently, for scholarships to be considered scholarships they can’t have any form of service requirement from you. So perhaps that’s the way to do it. Decide on a company that could use your skillset and your degree and then go and talk to them about bonded service. They may go for it.

And just so I know that I’ve said it; if there are any companies out there looking to raise their profile within the student body, I raise my hand as a volunteer. I would love to “Have It Your Way”. I definitely think that “Where There’s Life, There’s Bud”.  I live by the mantra “Nothing comes between me and my Calvins”.  I do think that “Gilette, [is] the Best a Man Can Get”. Pretty please Marlboro I would love to “Come To Where The Flavour Is”. Dear sweet Jesus while I’m studying I would love to “Just Do It”.  I am trying so, so hard to “Obey Your Thirst”. I know in my heart of hearts that if I can just get enough of it then I will discover the truth of “The Coke Side Of Life”. Basically, what I’m saying is I’ll happily be your Judas Goat leading the consumers to the slaughter.


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  1. Jays says:

    this is a well written article, I know what its like to be a broken, busted and disgusted student myself, and I congratulate you for at least investigating the idea of finding another way to get your end result.

    Have you ever looked at using your skills in a home base business, building a network of business leaders while studying, and when all is done and dusted, degree in hand you can afford the luxury of travelling overseas?.

    If your serious about being a Judas goat leading the consumers to the slaughter as you so eloquently described it. check out my website. who knows it could be just the financial vehicle you need to pay your way through studies.



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