Avoid That Scammy Brand Ambassador Offer

Man is holding book with title Brand Ambassador.
Photo ID: 193100696 © designer491/DepositPhotos.com

If you’re on Instagram, you’ve probably received DMs inviting you to become a “brand ambassador.” You’ll get free swag in return for posting a few photos of said swag. Sounds great, right? Not so fast… You should be wary of any such offers in your DMs because they may well be a deceptive marketing tactic, if not an outright scam.

A scammy brand ambassadorship offer 

To find out more, let’s look into a “brand ambassador” offer I received on a secret Instagram account I set up to investigate scams on the platform. I received this offer a little over two weeks after starting my account. The initial offer didn’t come from the brand directly, but rather from what appeared to be someone’s personal account. However, I was instructed to DM the brand themselves, which made it appear more legitimate.

Hello there! Love your IG

I work with a pet brand called REDACTED. I think you'd make a great fit for our ambassador program. We would absolutely love to collaborate with you and hook you up with some complimentary merchandise! 

If you are interested, just reach out by DM to REDACTED & they'll be happy to help.

The initial offer of an ambassadorship came from someone’s personal account. Screenshot by Rebecca Morris.

I won’t name the brand here for legal reasons, but it was an ecommerce company selling dog bandanas. Its account has over 800k Instagram followers, which again made the offer look legitimate. However, a large number of followers does not make an account trustworthy, because followers can always be bought.

When I contacted the brand, I received an auto reply asking me to choose from a list of options so the brand could “forward [me] to the right department.” Fortunately for me, “Become an ambassador” was an option. 

Hi [REDACTED]! Love the photos of the dapper doggos on your page! [REDACTED] got in touch and said I might be a fit for your ambassador program. I'd love to participate if that's true!

We're happy to help you out here! Be sure to choose one of the options below, so we can forward you to the right department (smiling emoji)

Become an Ambassador

Wonderful! We love to collaborate with furbabies of all sizes and species (heart emoji)
A screenshot of DMs with the brand.

Next, another auto reply asked if I had received an invitation to collaborate. I selected the “Yes I did!” option. I was instructed to visit the brand’s website and select up to seven bandanas. I decided to take it slow and start with two, so I added them to my cart and told the brand I had made my selection.

The brand then sent a discount code, giving me 100% off the bandanas. However, I was told I would still need to pay the “shipping and handling costs.”

Checkout UI from the dog bandana brand:

Several smilies | Dreamy Tones w/Sure-Clip 29.99 (crossed out) Free
Zesty Zoo |Furr-Fect Patterns 29.99 (crossed out) Free

Discout code Apply
Subtotal: $0.00
Shipping: $19.95
Estimated taxes: $1.40
Total: $21.35

Total savings $59.98
My “free” pet bandanas would cost me over $20.00 in shipping and handling fees, plus taxes. Yikes! Screenshot by author and edited in Canva.

How much could shipping two bandanas possibly cost? A little less than $10 per bandana! So, for my two “free” pet bandanas, I would need to pay $20 in shipping fees. Any “brand ambassadors” attempting to claim the maximum of seven free designs would need to pay around $70 in shipping! That’s outrageous! It’s even more so when you consider that the company claims it is based in California and I gave it an address in North Carolina.

I asked the brand why the shipping was so expensive, but the bot I was talking to didn’t have a response.

Dropshipping shenanigans 

What’s going on here? While I don’t know for sure, I have a theory. The brand’s website warns orders can take weeks to ship, which immediately makes me think it is a dropshipping business.

If you don’t know, dropshipping is a business model where the sellers don’t keep any inventory in stock themselves. Instead, when someone orders from a dropshipper, the dropshipper places an order with their supplier, often located in China, who sends the product directly to the buyer. As the product is sent from China, it can take weeks to arrive.

Dropshipping is not exactly a scam per se, but in addition to the long shipping times, there are two other problems with it:

  1. You can often find the same products on sites like AliExpress for significantly cheaper.
  2. The dropshipper may not have seen the product they are selling, so the quality may be very low.

Dropshipping Dog Bandanas

A collection of four dog bandanas with various patterns and colors from the sketchy brand's online website.
Here is a selection of dog bandanas for sale on the sketchy brand’s website. Compare these images with the ones from AliExpress below. Screenshot by the author.

In order to test out my theory that the dog bandana brand was dropshipping, I searched AliExpress for “dog bandana” and soon found the same products for less than $2, with free shipping included. The brand, meanwhile, was selling them for $30 plus $10 shipping and handling each.

A screenshot of an AliExpress listing displaying the same four pet bandanas (plus 2 additional ones) that were for sale on the sketchy brand's website. The difference, however, is that these are listed for 1.19 euros and come with free shipping.
Here you can see the same dog bandanas for sale on AliExpress for much cheaper. Additionally, these bandanas come with free shipping! Screenshot by the author.

There was one small difference between the bandanas on AliExpress and the ones sold by the brand: the brand’s bandanas had a label with its logo on it. But many dropshipping suppliers offer private label dropshipping, meaning they will add the dropshipper’s label to the products they ship.

So, it seems likely that the dog bandana brand is doing private label dropshipping. And while dropshipping has its problems, that’s not the main thing that makes the brand scammy.

Why the brand ambassadorship is scammy

A barcode with a face silhouette beneath it, with a long nose (indicating lies) blending into the barcode.
Photo ID: 154935654 © lightsource/DepositPhotos.com

Remember that the bandanas sell on AliExpress for as little as $2 and include free shipping. Yet the brand charges a $10 shipping and handling fee to send each “free” bandana to would-be brand ambassadors. This means the company is making a nice chunk of change each time a “brand ambassador” pays to have their “free” bandanas shipped to them.

I also suspect the brand is targeting potential “brand ambassadors” specifically to make money from the shipping and handling fees it charges them. Why? Because the brand’s account has set up an auto-reply DM sequence to onboard people into its “ambassador” program. Plus, the brand appears to be inviting people to join its program indiscriminately. For example, my secret Instagram account that received an offer was new and had posted no content related to dogs.

To sum it all up, the dog bandana company appears to be a private label dropshipper who uses brand ambassadorships to lure wannabe influencers into paying for a “free” product they would not have bought otherwise. That certainly seems scammy to me!

The takeaway

If you’re offered a brand ambassadorship on Instagram and have to pay shipping and handling fees, don’t get too excited. The brand is likely engaging in deceptive marketing and your best bet is to stay away!

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