Brands Love to Pay Your Student Loans for Clout

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On Monday, Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Ilhan Omar introduced two bills to eliminate the entirety of the student loan debt in the U.S., following another student loan debt relief plan from Senator Elizabeth Warren released in April. But presidential candidates aren’t the only ones interested in doing something about mounting student loan debt; increasingly, brands want you to believe they are too, mostly so you can buy more of their stuff with the money you save.

Offering to pay off even just a little bit of your student loans is the hot new marketing trend among brands aiming to build cache with millennials, according to a report from NBC News. Burger King, for example, tweeted “got student loans? what’s ur $cashtag?” last month; the company told NBC News it actually sent money to 800 people who responded.

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It’s a nice gesture, but it looks like it was just a set-up to get people to download the Burger King app and use it to order food:

Burger King then followed up the tweet by announcing their new marketing campaign, Whopper Loans. The idea is fairly simple and seemingly innocuous: buy some food through their app, enter your information and the amount of your monthly student loan payment, and you could be eligible to win. One person will win up to $100,000, and 300 people will get $500 for their loans.

Parting with $250,000 is chump change to Burger King, which is reportedly worth $7.1 billion. And while receiving $500 out of nowhere can make a huge difference in someone’s life, this kind of advertising scheme, on top of being opportunistic and gross, is just a band-aid on top of the U.S.’s yawning student loan debt problem, which affects some 45 million people.

But it seems these types of selective campaigns—whether they’re by millennial-baiting corporations or benevolent millionaires—are increasingly the norm; NBC News points out that beer company Natural Light has twice offered to give away $1 million to 25 people (or $40,000 each) who make the best video “proving they bought the beer and discussing their college experience.” A game show on TruTV last year invited people with student debt to come compete for money to pay off their loans.

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“Every little bit counts,” is perhaps the narrative around this, but these schemes merely underscore what millions of American are up against. After all, none of this is new: it was just two years ago that Nicki Minaj started sending money to fans with good grades, and announced she was launching a charity to help even more people pay off their student loans. The patchwork nature of these improvised solutions just points to the persistent and precarious nature of the problem.

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