Advertising Gets Personal: Rule No. 1 -- Sell Yourself

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By Frank Ahrens
Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Web's bizarre bazaar now offers adventures in nearly naked capitalism.

Four college dudes at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., are using eBay to auction ad space on their bodies to fund a bacchanalian spring break trip to Mexico in March.

At least the money will go to a good cause.

The guys' 10-day auction began at noon Friday, with bidding starting at the customary eBay price of 99 cents.

To quote from the auction page: "Think of all the advertising you could get when four college guys strut their stuff with your logo, Web site name, or product plastered all over their body! And the few times we HAVE to wear shirts, we are more than willing to wear anything related to your company! Feel free to give us temporary tattoos, t-shirts, hats, sweatshirts, sandles [sic], or anything else you think we could use to promote your company!"

The site includes several pictures of four guys standing around in the desert with their shirts off. Ringleader Kyle Kittleson, the fifth, is the photographer. The most hilarious photo is a close-up of the stomach of Alex Zinn, Kittleson's best bud, as two spokesfingers point to the blank ad space. Already, I see one flaw in the plan: The guys are as skinny as plucked chickens, hence, they have limited ad space. They should've signed up some dudes with more surface area.

In the past, some enterprising capitalists have tried to sell unconventional items on eBay. In 1999, bidding hit $5.7 million for a "fully functional kidney" before eBay intervened to block the illegal sale. In 2004, a British coed tried to sell her virginity to pay off her student debts. In November, William Shatner said he would consider selling a recently passed kidney stone for charity. (Insert your own joke here.)

The ASU fellas may be early adopters to using the Internet to sell body space, but they are not innovators in the practice of using human billboards. In 2004, NBA player Richard Hamilton was paid to braid his hair in a pattern resembling a Goodyear tire tread. Two years earlier,, an online casino, began paying boxers to have the casino's name written on their backs so it could be seen in televised fights.

Kittleson, 19, a sophomore majoring in real estate (perfect), said he got the idea about four months ago when he remembered some guy who'd sold ad space on his forehead. (Last year, Nebraska Web designer Andrew Fisher was paid $37,375 to advertise a snoring remedy on his forehead for one month.) Kittleson's buddies went on a spring break trip last year and "suffered the financial burden of that and had to make up for it this year," Kittleson said on Friday. He figured selling ad space on their bodies this year could help defray the cost of the apparently mandatory spring trip or, "at best case, make it free."

The ASU guys promise to mark their bodies with anything -- "unless it hurts, or is permanent." Which is a little disheartening. I mean, if they're really moving into the final frontier media buy -- selling space on the human body -- they should show some commitment and toughness and go hard-core. They should be willing to tattoo a corporate logo into their flesh. For the right price, of course. Oh, sure, Kittleson talks a big game -- "I live by the theory that there is a price for everything" -- so I asked him what it would take to, say, tattoo a Nike swoosh into his cheek.

"On my cheek? Oh, jeez," he said. "I would do it but it would definitely have to be enough to retire on."

In addition to being product-neutral on advertising -- "if you're a retirement community, we want you; if you're an explicit porn site, we want you," Kittleson said -- the boys will travel anywhere the ad-buyer demands: "If Coke [buys us] and says, 'We need higher distribution in Cabo, don't go to Cancun,' that's fine," he said.

For the current auction, Kittleson is hoping for $5,000, or $1,000 for each guy.

He had thought about selling individual body parts to various advertisers, but decided to retain brand purity.

"If I were looking at this, I wouldn't want my brand name on a body with a thousand brand names," he said. "With one ad, that company is getting maximum exposure. We don't want to be NASCAR cars."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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