At first sight, this job title suggests that it has something to do with diplomacy. Soon after signing up with a few promotional agencies though, I discovered that being a brand ambassador was not quite the same as being a political figure or an ambassador of the countries.
I wasn’t given a personal driver to take me to work every day or a tightly secured house to live in, but merely an ill-fitting uniform or just a baggy t-shirt with a logo of the brand I was supposed to represent, and university students or recent graduates (usually entertainers of some sort) to work with. Some elementary, diplomatic skills were required, but only when dealing with difficult people – a typical occurrence in many customer service related tasks.
Another simple phrase to describe the position could be a glamourised sales assistant - with the only difference being that rather than having a set workplace, brand ambassador is often freelancing between locations and only talks about a specific product or service of a specific company for a fixed amount of time. They are neither required to promote any other products they are not directly responsible of. Yet sometimes it is considerate towards customers to serve their needs, as they don’t necessary see the difference between a sales assistant and brand ambassador. The customer only expects to be assisted by anyone near them wearing an odd-looking shirt.
Brand ambassading was one of those many part-time opportunities that perfectly contributed to the freelance lifestyle during my first years in England. Also, these type of assignments seemed relatively accessible. There was always work available for anyone willing.
The most common requirements expected from us were just simply being able to be bubbly, energetic and pro-active - all three characteristics a Finnish person like myself don’t hold naturally. Having a foreign accent didn’t help either when trying to get across an effective brand message and you only have a couple of seconds to convince the rushing passerby. Most often, I struggled to capture the attention of the common folk. Working inside colossal buildings and echoey spaces posed an additional challenge. My monotone voice seemed to be at similar frequency to the background noise of many public areas, hence they often blended into one.
Many of my passionate actor, singer and dancer co-workers though had the most captivating personalities. Sometimes, I secretly stared at them in awe and admired how they were able to connect with the general public in an upbeat manner using their high-pitched voices, whether in a large shopping centre or bustling train station. Somehow, miraculously, these talents were able to turn even the grumpiest heads, create demands out of nowhere and generate curiosity to things people should normally show no natural interest to. Voluntarily, I let them deal with those individual customers yearning for larger-than-life X-Factor performances, while I focused on my kind of target audience: elderly, foreign or just people who were a bit slow for various reasons.
The value of an ambassador ten-folded in the eyes of the customer, whenever the activity included any sort of consumable samples with some monetary value that were given away for free, like chocolate, wine, iced tea, soft drinks, moisturiser and so on. Seeing the smiley faces of the public, when they got something for free in a world where everything has a price, was priceless. Suddenly, the most boring and demotivated promoter became a hero and commonly liked person. A kind of job that gives the insecure a false confidence.
I fell into this same trap believing that these people really like me for who I am, not only for the stuff I’m giving them. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Those countless, flirtatious smiles I received from women when I was about to hand them Swiss chocolate were only a superficial façade they pulled to get what they wanted. As the samples filled their mouths and they turned away, I never saw their faces again. I’m almost certain the smiles faded immediately after they had swallowed.
Half-jokingly, I once said to a young female customer that I would only give her chocolate in exchange for her phone number. She gave her consent and happily scurried away with two of my truffle balls melting in her palm. I tried calling her later that day after I had finished my shift, but the number didn’t work.
Handing out free chocolate or even the chocolatier’s uniform – two things I had always thought women specifically like – didn’t help me to secure any dates. It was time to seriously revamp my wooing methods.
Even the stagnated pay rates for promotional workers indicated there was no light at the end of the tunnel. When I did my first brand ambassador’s job eight years before the last one, the most common pay rate was always ten pounds an hour. Interestingly, this particular industry seems to be immune to general salary increases, and soon the National Minimum and Living Wage will be overtaking ten pounds an hour.
Together with soaring rents and increasing living costs, the young students, who mostly get involved in promotional work, really have it hard. No wonder sugar daddism thrive. And by sugar daddies, I’m not talking about aging ambassadors giving away free chocolate with high sugar content.