Crack open a cold one, student debt holders. Natural Light, better known as "Natty Light," the cheap beer of choice for college students across the country, wants to help grads pay off their student loans.
The beer brand will be giving away $1,000,000 to help 25 lucky drinkers pay off their student debt. In order to compete for one of these prizes, participants must submit a short video showcasing a green tab from a can of Natty Light and share what made their college experience special.
It's a smart way for the brand to market their product. It is also a sign of how serious the student debt crisis has become.
Typically, the brand would run an expensive ad during the Super Bowl but this year, their pared-down spot will run in just 10 markets. The commercial shows students sliding through a soapy college dorm hall while Paula Cole's melancholy 1997 hit, "I Don't Want To Wait" plays in the background before revealing the giveaway. "Keep your epic college stories," the ad says. "Not your epic college debts?"
The commercial's tagline? "College debt sucks."
"We took a look at 10 of the most Natty-centric cities where our beer is loved and there are thousands of students, and took on the mission to protect their epic college memories," says Chelsea Phillips, Vice President of Value Brands at Anheuser-Busch, which owns Natural LIght.
Historically, beer company sweepstakes offered fun, flashy experiences, like party cruises or tickets to the Super Bowl. But today, paying off student debt is one of the most exciting things that millennials can imagine. For this generation of consumers, suddenly becoming debt-free is the equivalent of winning the lottery.
Over 44 million Americans collectively hold nearly 1.5 trillion in student debt. The Federal Reserve Board of Washington, D.C. found that an increase in student debt has led to a decrease in home ownership. A study from NerdWallet predicts that students who graduated from college in 2015 will have to delay retirement until the age of 75, in part because of the increasing burden of student debt.
This phenomenon is not lost on Natty Light's celebrity spokesperson, actor Jake Johnson. "You hear about these generations that are living at home later and later and there's a connection," he tells CNBC Make It. "When they told me about what they had in mind, I had a strong desire to stand with them. I know what it's like to live on a college student's budget, trust me."
A major reason for the increase in student debt is because more Americans are going to college than ever before — and they need to. The most recent figures from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) show that students earned approximately 1.9 million bachelor's degrees during the 2014 to 2015 school year — a 32 percent increase from 2005.
A 2014 study by the Brookings Institute states that "roughly one-quarter of the increase in student debt since 1989 can be directly attributed to Americans obtaining more education, especially graduate degrees."
Once graduates have accrued significant debt, it can take decades to pay it off. According to the Federal Reserve, there are 6.8 million student loan borrowers between the ages of 40 and 49 who collectively hold $229.6 billion in debt.
Students know that they need an advanced degree or at least a bachelors degree to land a job at one of today's dream companies. And as the demand for highly-skilled workers increases, the student debt crisis is only set to continue.
The 25 winners of Natty Light sweepstakes will receive $40,000 to go towards their student loans, a number that becomes even more significant when you consider that Americans in their 40s with student loan debt each have an average balance of $33,765.
Disclosure: NBC Sports is televising Sunday's Super Bowl.
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