Olivia Jade Giannulli infamously said that she didn’t “really care about school” — though she certainly used her college experience as a marketing tool.
Before becoming the poster child for the college-scamming scandal, which may see her parents, actress Lori Loughlin and designer Mossimo Giannulli, end up behind bars, the 19-year-old ex-University of Southern California freshman scored sponsorships because of her 1.4 million Instagram followers and nearly 2 million YouTube subscribers.
Mae Karwowski, founder of an influencer marketing agency called Obviously, estimates that Olivia Jade was likely making six figures. And with her makeup line at Sephora and brand deals with companies such as Amazon (where she promoted dorm decor), Smashbox and Too Faced, “it could be upwards of $200,000,” Karwowski, who has worked on influencer campaigns with Coca-Cola and Google, tells The Post.
While the bribery scandal may have put Olivia Jade’s career as an influencer in jeopardy, it has put a spotlight on a growing industry, which may be “worth well over $10 billion by 2020,” according to Karwowski. As a result, sexy coeds — even those with far fewer followers than Olivia Jade — are focusing more on their social media feeds than their degrees in hopes of obtaining lucrative deals.
“When I was looking for colleges, I wanted one that was Instagrammable,” 19-year-old Josy Lentner, a freshman at the University of Arizona, tells The Post. “If I went to the University of Minnesota, where I’m from … I would not be getting good pictures.”
Lentner, who hasn’t decided her major yet, says her party-girl persona — pics of her wearing bright bikinis or posing with pals at frat formals — have earned her 22,500 followers and brand deals with Lilybod leggings, Frankie’s swimwear, Swoon lashes and more. Says Lentner, “There are times where I miss class for Instagram reasons. Sometimes [if] the lighting is really good, I’ll do a photo shoot because those pictures are worth it.”
‘When I was looking for colleges, I wanted one that was Instagrammable.’
Karwowski says Lentner’s time may well be better spent taking snaps on the quad than sitting through a lecture.
“It used to be that companies didn’t want to work with influencers unless they had 1 million followers. Now, a majority of the influencers we work with have 20,000 or 50,000,” says Karwowski, who classifies Lentner, with her 22,000 followers, as a desirable “micro-influencer.”
Campus influencing is a win-win for brands. “You’re tapping into a more-defined community of people who go to a school or live in that college town,” she says. “Younger people want recommendations from people they trust … whether it’s from their friends or their perceived friends.”
Lentner says she’s often paid in clothes or services, such as hair and eyelash extensions. The cash proceeds aren’t plentiful — about $50 to $100 for an Instagram shoutout — but are just enough to cover the expenses of a night out: “An outfit and two drinks.” She attends frat parties, tailgates and formal dances on a weekly basis, taking about 100 pictures per event that she later painstakingly edits down for her feed.
Artemis House is an actress and economics major at Harvard Extension School, a branch of Harvard University that allows students to take classes mostly online.
House, who has 46,000 followers, works with brands such as MVMT watches and Teami weight-loss teas. “I can pay for my education at Harvard,” she says. Though House won’t specify amounts she’s made from each brand, she says she earns upwards of $20,000 per year.
The 20-year-old, who divides her time among New Mexico (where she’s currently shooting a Disney movie), Georgia (where she’s from) and Boston, says her Ivy League association makes her attractive to brainier businesses. “I have some brands approach me because I go to Harvard, like an essay-writing service,” she says. “I turned them down.”
Similarly, Brooke Swallow, a 22-year-old marketing major at Loyola Marymount University in LA, has 303,000 followers. She says a couple of energy-drink brands have expressed interest in her because she posted frequently about her love of caffeine during late-night library study sessions.
“They reached out to my management, and they’ll negotiate terms,” she says. Even paying a manager a small portion of her earnings is worth it, she says, estimating her annual Instagram income amounts to a little over $10,000 — “enough to pay for groceries and gas every month.”
A big booster for college girl influencers is aggregate accounts such as @TheCollege-Babes and @TFMGirls (the sister account of @TotalFratMove), which has 1.2 million followers. They’re basically Gen-Z equivalents of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, with their postings of bikini-clad coeds culled from daily fan submissions.
Swallow says her appearances on such fratty feeds have greatly helped her brand. “Usually it’s a bunch of random dudes,” she says of the followers she gets from those posts.
“And it doesn’t help that my last name is Swallow.”
Still, having gushing guy followers can be helpful: In addition to contracts with swimwear lines and local boutiques, her collabs with bro-centric brands, like Manscaped, a body shaver for men, are big earners.“I got 5,600 followers from [a sponsored Manscaped post]. It’s my most-liked picture,” she says, adding that it got 1 million impressions, or 1 million eyes on the post, which she tracks through Instagram Analytics.
Swallow says she’s nervous about her upcoming graduation, and worries how she’ll keep her followers engaged among a seemingly endless pool of hottie classmates. “More young, pretty girls come up … at a certain age, you’re dunzo,” she says.
Her fears are real, according to 2018 Florida State University grad Aubrey Joy, who is concerned her brand might suffer now that she’s no longer a sorority girl.
“A tailgating picture would get more likes than a regular post … people want to see a life that they want to live,” says Joy, 22, who hopes to parlay her college fame into a business. “Ultimately, I don’t want a bunch of frat guys following me … I want to be more focused on fitness and health and things that would help women … I want to help women struggling to find a bathing suit they feel confident in.”
To realize her design dreams, she’s currently working in sales at influencer marketing agency IZEA. “It helps me learn what a brand wants in an influencer, and adjust myself accordingly to be marketable,” she says.
Joy is just starting to make deals for herself, and got paid a $500 flat fee and $300 worth of free sports bras for shouting out a workout apparel company. She hopes to eventually influence and design bikinis for women with large busts full-time, and is working to raise $10,000 in capital to get the line off the ground.
Lentner is still in the fledgling phase of her collegiate influencing. First, she plans to head back to Minnesota to work at a restaurant in her hometown for the summer, though she is in talks to appear on a new ITV reality dating show, whose producers found her through social media.
She’s not concerned about how her scantily clad image will affect her career down the line — and neither is her father.
Rather, he’s encouraging her to keep up her online image: “My dad is always like, ‘See what you can do on Instagram.’ ”