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You Inc.: Squeezing the Most Money Out of Yourself

Friday, 5 Nov 2010 | 11:27 AM ET

From painting your face at a football game to wearing a company’s logo on your T-shirt, advertising on yourself isn’t a new concept.

Person hoding sign of Me Inc.
Person hoding sign of Me Inc.

But the rise of the Internet and social media, coupled with the recession, has helped turn the human billboard from an expression of personal style into a revenue stream.

“Seemingly, every inch is for sale!” said Jay Baer, a social media strategist and co-author of “The NOW Revolution: 7 Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter & More Social.” “It’s not at all surprising (and quite a bit enterprising) to find a way to turn yourself into media,” he said. “It’s similar in some ways to paying someone to Tweet about your company. Man = Media.”

Also, women.

For the New York City marathon this weekend, two entrepreneurial women are selling off their limbs — and one, her rear end — to use as advertising at the event, which typically gets about 40,000 runners, an estimated two million spectators — and we haven’t even gotten to the Internet spectators!

Emily Gannett, and her teammates on “Team Interactive,”which include the founders of Foursquare.com, pledged to raise $5,000 for the marathon and donate it to CampInteractive, a nonprofit that helps inner-city youth.

So Gannett decided to expedite the fund-raising: For $150, she’ll write your Twitter handle or company name on one of her arms or legs in permanent marker. Her friend, Mediaite editor-at-large Rachel Sklar, isn’t running but decided to up the ante for a good cause — she’s agreed to be a “branded spectator,” and is not only selling off space on each limb, but also her rear end.

Gannett said she got the idea from friend Michelle DeForest, who did this when she was running a triathalon in April.

But why wouldn’t she just take a page out of Nascar’s book and put company logos on her shirt?

“The Team Interactive singlets were already at the printer,” Gannett explained. “And writing on my arms and legs seemed like a better value for my sponsors … and is more clever!”

So far, she says, she’s sold mostly to individuals and one website, the user-driven comparison site ThisorThat.com.

“Limbs are still for sale!” Gannett quipped. (If you’re interested, go here.)

And it isn’t limited to selling yourself. Some clever entrepreneurs are putting their kids and pets to work, without them having to lift a finger — or paw.

Jason Sadler, the guy who started a mini T-shirt-wearing empire mid-recession, is even getting his dog in on the act! Next year, Sadler will not only have four professional human T-shirt wearers on the “I Wear Your Shirt” payroll, but his dog Plaxico will also be wearing T-shirts daily and then uploading photos, blogs, Tweets and the occasional YouTube video .

“Like most dogs, he’s lazy,” Sadler said of Plaxico. “I wrote out the business plan, had a PowerPoint and he just sat there … and eventually laid down and went to sleep. There was a short tail wag at one point, so I knew he was on board.”

Plax wearing t-shirts
Source:plaxicothedog.com
Plax wearing t-shirts

Plaxico just went live with his “I Wear Your Shirt” franchise and already, he’s got over 340 followers on Facebook and over 1,400 followers on Twitter — more than, ahem, some writers I know! (Hey, Plax, help a sister out?!)

Carl and Amy Martin used to run a metal-recycling business. When the recession crunched their business, they didn’t wait for companies to start hiring again, they took matters into their own hands — and their kids’ hands! The “Billboard Family,”as they’re now known, took Sadler’s idea and extended it so the whole family is wearing T-shirts professionally — mom, dad and the two, soon to be three, kids.

That third kid already has his opener for his first job interview: He had his first job before he left the womb!

But wait, it gets better — The family hasn’t even started wearing their shirts yet (they start Jan. 1) and they may already have their own TV show!

Their story caught the eye of producer Darryl Silver, who has bought the rights to the family’s story and is shopping a reality show based on their family T-shirt business.

“I love that, over time, they are bringing small and big companies alike down to a micropromotional level,” Silver said. “It is a rare feat in this world of 24-hour TV/Internet/blogging/texting that one simply family can make such a big splash with such huge players and profit from it without losing their core values,” he said.

Silver said he’s already gotten interest from several cable networks and hopes to start filming in January when they start wearing shirts. He thinks this innovative idea at this point in the economic recovery will really strike a chord with viewers.

“In this day and age, where people are struggling just to make a living, trying to keep their families together and hold onto their homes, the Billboard Family uses ingenuity and hard work to achieve the American Dream,” he said.

With many companies still reluctant to hire, it really does put a new face on the American Dream: All these people used was a little creativity and themselves — or, in Sadler’s case, his dog — to create their own story, their own job, their own revenue stream.

So what does this say about us as a society?

“That we’re willing to accept blatant commercialism, as long as it’s handled in a semi-ironic, creative fashion,” Baer said. “I don’t see people as excited or interested in boxers that get temporary tattoos of Goldenpalace.comor poker players wearing Full Tilt Poker logos on their shirts. Why? Because it’s so straightforward and obvious that it lacks the tongue-in-cheek quality of IWearYourShirt.com,” he said.

The human element also plays a big role, Baer said. That’s why wrapping your car in an advertisement didn’t really take off — it lacks the personal, human element. It’s nothing more than a moving, inanimate billboard.

Baer said he doesn’t think the human billboard is just a fad while the economy recovers — he thinks it’s here to stay.

“If you can connect a product to an audience and do it reliably and affordably, you’re not a trend,” Baer explained. “You’re in the media business. And as ‘traditional’ media continues to weaken and fragment, you’ll see a lot more of this kind of program.”

“Ultimately, every company (and possibly every person) will consider themselves to be their very own TV station and magazine,” he predicted.

Sklar, the “branded spectator” at this weekend’s New York City marathon hasn’t yet disclosed who bought her behind but she’s already thinking about the next revenue-generating body part.

“If the market is hot, maybe I’ll pull a Tim Tebow and sell off my under-eyes!” she quipped. “We’re entrepreneurs, what can I say!”

Actually, you don’t have to say anything — it’s all written right there!

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  • Cindy Perman is a writer at CNBC.com, covering jobs, real estate, retirement and personal finance.

  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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