OMG, Retailers Are, Like, Totally Giving Me Free Stuff!

With back-to-school season under way, many retailers are turning to a newfound marketing force: online "haul" videos that feature young women sitting before webcams, sharing with the world everything they bought, or "hauled" home, from the mall.

Some "haulers" draw more than 75 million views, and Beverly Macy, a marketing executive who teaches social media marketing at the UCLA Business and Management Extension Program, tells NPR's Liane Hansen that retailers are beginning to take notice.

Retailers even give some of the more popular "haulers" gift certificates that are acknowledged on the videos, she says. And though it may seem as though companies are taking major risks in letting these young fashionistas have a role in their marketing, Macy says it's a risk worth taking.

"What the social media sphere is all about is authenticity," she says. "And retailers are willing to take the risk that the reviewers, so to speak — the young girls in this case — will be very honest and their audience will appreciate the honesty."

Macy, author of the forthcoming book The Power of Real Time Social Media Marketing, says social media is no longer being seen as a fleeting trend, and more companies are embracing it as an established business practice.

"Brands are trying to find, obviously, the return on investment," she says. "In the case of the teen haulers, if you've got an audience of 20,000-30,000-40,000 people that are going to watch what you have to say, and they are people who are potentially going to buy the product, again, that is a return of investment.

"And, think about it: The brand is not spending very much money to do this. So it's a pretty good deal for everybody."

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