With Celsius University, the energy drink amps up its college influencers

The brand has 170 college students on the payroll, and flies them to Florida for an annual training and strategy conference.
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Caitlyn Stringfellow, a Florida State University student and Celsius University participant, hands out a can of the energy drink on campus. Celsius

· 4 min read

Even an energy drink brand needs an infusion of energy sometimes, and that’s exactly what Celsius is undergoing with its college influencer program.

Celsius, which launched in 2004, has worked with college influencers on campuses for years, supplying them with products and swag—both for sharing with other students and as compensation for their efforts.

But as the new school year approached last summer, it introduced Celsius University, a program where the brand puts college students on the payroll, hiring one of what its website calls “paid student marketing ambassadors” per campus to be a point person for the brand and to oversee other (unpaid) influencers.

Students apply—including sending a video of why they’d be a “perfect fit for Celsius U”—and those who get the gig are flown to Boca Raton, Florida, where Celsius is based, for a three-day August conference. The conference ends, naturally, with a cap-and-gown ceremony.

  • When the program launched in 2022, it hired 17 of the paid ambassadors.
  • This year, the program expanded tenfold, with the brand hiring 170.

Office hours: Kyle Watson, EVP of marketing at Celsius, has been developing the college influencer program since she arrived more than four years ago.

“That was just seeding products and just making sure we supplied all of our ambassadors with tons of products so that we were really driving awareness and allowing them to build Celsius into their communities,” Watson told Retail Brew.

But with the new paid ambassador program, “they’re more like members of the team,” she said.

Along with the annual conference in Boca Raton, the ambassadors attend quarterly online meetings with Celsius executives and are briefed on product launches and marketing efforts before they break.

“We call them the CEOs of their campus,” Watson said. “They have this sense of ownership, and they’re passionate about the brand.”

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Sweat equity: While Celsius is, no doubt, being gulped during all-nighters writing papers, the brand promotes it as a fitness drink as much as an energy drink.

It cites several studies that it claims support the notion that its formulation increases metabolism and thus drinking one before a workout helps step up endurance and “burn more calories and body fat,” according to Celsius’s website.

Last year, Celsius hired Bachelorette star Tyler Cameron to lead workouts, and Watson said he’ll do more of the events this year, including on campuses.

“We try to integrate fitness into everything that we do,” Watson said. “So it’s not just about supplying students with energy for finals…but it’s also making sure that we’re driving that lifestyle and fitness and creating a community around that.”

Beyond campuses, the drinks marketers do much to align it with sports:

Degrees Celsius: Watson declined to reveal how much its hired ambassadors are paid, but she did confirm that they are on the books as part-time employees rather than interns receiving a stipend.

As to whether not only paying influencers who’ve historically been happy to work for swag—but also flying them to Florida and putting them up at hotels—is paying off for the brand, with “marketing in general,” that is hard to measure, Watson said.

“I’m always trying to find a way to prove the ROI for everything we do,” Watson said. “But with this, it’s nonnegotiable for our brand to be able to really immerse ourselves in the collegiate communities and if we aren’t doing that, then we’re definitely missing out.”

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.