If you haven’t heard of Chris and Luke, you haven’t been reading your People magazine.
Or USA Today. Or the New York Post, or 300 other magazines, newspapers, radio, and TV stations hyping chrisandluke.com.
These New Jersey high schoolers are shopping themselves as “spokesguys” to pay for college. First choice is NYU’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business, but they’ll also take University of Southern California, Pepperdine, or a half-dozen other schools on either coast. “We want to be in New York or L.A. because those are the media capitals of the world,” says Chris.
Chris and Luke want $100,000 to $130,000 in sponsorship fees (to cover one years’ tuition and books, times two) plus expenses — you know, if they fly to another city to promote your brand, or throw a big party at their apartment and serve your chips. Fifteen companies have approached them over six months.
They won’t do beer, tobacco, or sex-related products “because that would be awkward,” Chris says. They turned down a mint brand “because that would be boring.” They’ll sign only one-year contracts so they aren’t stuck if things don’t work out the way they expect. They’ve already signed hotjobs.com as a “minor” sponsor (“That won’t be our full-time job,” Chris explains) and were negotiating with a telecom as PROMO went to press. The boys want four deals, or one big sponsor “like Nike is for Tiger Woods.”
Chris and Luke, apparently, have a thing for Tiger Woods. “We got the idea after visiting schools in California last summer,” Chris says. “We knew school was expensive, but $35,000 a year? Then we saw Tiger Woods wearing a Nike hat on TV and thought, ‘Why not us?’”
They’re not hawking sports prowess — in fact, their site points out that they’re not subject to NCAA endorsement restrictions. But they’re also selling more than just ad space on their T-shirts: “We’ll do grassroots campaigns — like host Pepsi parties: Get kids away from beer and have them over to our apartment” to drink Pepsi, proposes Chris. They’ll travel to campuses across the U.S. to hand out samples at football games. They’ll call the local press “to give them a ‘heads-up’ that the sponsored spokesguys will be appearing.”
These guys do have marketing experience: Chris consults with local companies to reach teens online, and took third in New Jersey’s DECA (fomerly Distributive Education Clubs of America) high school competition with a marketing campaign for his Web site for concert fans. Luke is lead singer and chief marketer for Big Fat Huge. They include media kits with college applications. Prime goal is to have deals set by April “so we have time to launch by fall,” Chris says. They don’t use their last names on the site because “we’re creating a brand.”
“We’re selling out, but in a positive way,” Chris says. “This is a head start for our jobs. If we had to work at the college bookstore for financial aid but we didn’t want to be bookstore clerks or librarians, it wouldn’t make sense. This is more related to what we want to do.”
Chris and Luke bill themselves as the first corporate-sponsored college students and their publicist, Karen Ammond, credits a CBS producer for pegging this as a trend.
“Instead of working one’s way through college as a waiter or similar menial job, the best and the brightest will be identified in high school by corporations … [that] will give financial support in exchange for expertise from these young people,” the press kit reads.
It could give rise to a whole new language on campus. “He bagged a Nike scholarship once they saw his Web site.” “She’s here on the full Pepsi Package — with a clothing allowance.”
It’ll never get that far, of course. College kids avoid disingenuousness like an 8 a.m. Linguistics class. Even if Chris and Luke mean it, the novelty won’t last.
Neither will their coolness. They’re seniors now, but they’ll be freshmen for the entire year of their one-year contracts. Think about it: Can freshmen ever be the coolest kids on campus, no matter what they’ve got on their T-shirts?
On the other hand, buying high school kids could become hugely popular and spread like mad. Corporate scouts will start hanging around Junior Achievers meetings and scouring DECA competitions for the next crop of marketing smarties. Eventually, corporate scholarships could beget “style” scholarships to rival academic and athletic handouts and give the trendiest kids an even playing field. Think how they’d master Psych 101.
But Chris and Luke aren’t thinking about the long-range seep of marketing into education. They’re thinking about next steps, next fall … and the next interview.