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by Yvonne Lozano


The 47-year-old grandmother of seven from Greensboro, N.C. is one of 18 would-be human billboards advertising themselves on eBay for hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Her tight-lipped smile and thumbnail photos of her chest, nails, and bottom suggest she is not the “southern belle” she proclaims herself to be. She’s auctioning her entire body, from her forehead to her “ghetto booty.” Her asking price: $500. Any bidders? None. As a matter of fact, no one is biting, not even for another woman selling ad space on her body for $1.

Why the influx of people rushing to get themselves inked? Maybe it’s because of Jim Nelson’s results, as he is considered the world’s first human billboard. Nelson auctioned the back of his head on eBay in 2003 and received $7,000 from the winning bidder, CI Host, an Internet service provider. After four hours of tattooing, Nelson was ready to show the streets of Illinois, and soon the world, the five-inch logo permanently etched on his skin. According to a CI Host press release, Nelson must keep the tattoo visible at all times and make daily outings. He is also required to travel domestically and internationally at his own expense. If he fails to meet these contractual obligations, it could cost him a hefty $25,000. The publicity surrounding the stunt garnered media and public attention for Nelson and CI Host, which has seen an increase it its Web site traffic.

Since then, copycats have popped up on eBay promoting various body parts for sale. Nothing is sacred. Not even a Rottweiler’s shaved back, which coincidentally is also up for bid.

Will this trend eventually wane? Not if, TatAD.com can help it. Where eBay is not generating any bidders, this online body-advertising firm is flourishing. It screams its slogan atop every page, “Get Branded, Get Paid!” and is cashing in on this creative, yet scarring, idea. TatAD offers free memberships to those seeking to sell their skin to corporate sponsors. Registering with TatAD doesn’t guarantee sponsorship, but they try to match registrants with possible sponsors so they encourage people to write their interests and whom they’d like to be sponsored by. This gives the term “sellout” a whole new meaning, yet, the Web site addresses that issue, as well, stating that there is “no corporate sellout; in fact, it’s the other way around.”

Their mission, TatAD says, is about “providing companies with loyal promoters and providing people with the compensation they deserve for being loyal all these years.” Their Web site states that it’s about time people get paid to advertise since the average person already is a walking billboard showing off logos on clothing, cigarettes, and so on.

Are people buying in? See for yourself. In just 40 days, more than 500 people from Europe, Canada, and the United States, registered as willing to be tattooed. TatAD encourages people who sign up to ask for as much money as they think they are worth. “You can think of it as real estate,” the site states. “The more desired exposure areas will cost more!” The first person to sign up, who goes by the pseudonym “Sprinkles,” had the logo for Thomas Lynch Fashions tattooed on her shoulder. She was paid $1,000 for the silver dollar-sized tattoo.

“ We don’t want to revolutionize tattooing; we’re revolutionizing advertising and the relationship between customer and company,” states the Web site.

This “revolutionary” idea does not sit well with just anyone. “You couldn’t pay me a million dollars to promote Coors Light on my forehead or arm,” says 10-time tattooed Jose Chavez. “It’s just a ridiculous concept, and it’ll die out soon.”

Is this a smart investment for people seeking to make a quick buck? Although, it may seem like a fun way to make some easy cash, people must keep in mind that besides etching a permanent scar on their skin, they also are entering into a business commitment that can sometimes, as in Jim Nelson’s case, lead to hefty fines if the contract is breached.

Fines aren’t the only heavy price to pay. When people put their profiles on eBay, they also put themselves up for scrutiny. Peck received many negative comments, one in particular asking her for the price of putting a saddle on her back and riding her around town as a “rolling billboard.” In the end, Peck had no bids, and a new list of wannabes decorated eBay’s page.

For now, this trend is just a blip on the radar, and it’s hard to say if it’ll get bigger or disappear. Chavez said: “People have nothing better to do with their time and are probably already looking for the next bandwagon to jump on.”

Jim Nelson, left, getting the CI Host logo tattooed on his shaven head. He is considered the world’s first human billboard.
Courtesey Yvonne Lozano


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