Q&A: The Billboard Family, Professional T-Shirt Wearers

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Meet the family that’s put itself up for sale, or more accurately, for rent. Throughout 2011, the Martin family of St. Louis, Missouri—husband Carl, wife Amy, 4-year-old Layne, 3-year-old Kaitlyn, and a baby on the way—will promote paying companies by wearing T-shirts with brand logos, Tweeting, blogging, and posting on Facebook about the company and its products. Their rates start at $2 for the first day of 2011, and go up $2 per day, ending with the most expensive day, December 31, 2011, when a sponsor would have to pay $730 for the family’s services. If the Martins sell out all 365 days like they hope to, they’ll gross more than $120K.

Good work if you can get it, I suppose.

The Martins call themselves the Billboard Family, and their list of personal goals includes attending an Ivy League university (Layne), pursuing a career in singing and acting (Kaitlyn), becoming a full-time “professional T-shirt wearer” (Carl), and owning a vacation home in Alaska (Carl and Amy). They aren’t the first people to agree to wear the T-shirts of paying sponsors (see: I Wear Your Shirt, for example), but they claim to be the first folks doing so as a family.

We live in strange times. Family patriarch Carl Martin answers my questions below.

OK, the big questions up front: Why are you doing this? And why should companies be willing to pay you to wear their logos? Go one and give me the big sales pitch.
CM: We have always been a very close family, spending a lot of time together, as families should. My wife Amy and I decided that we should start a family business that would allow us to maintain that lifestyle, and still make a comfortable living. So many parents would love to spend as much time with their children as we do, but they have to work outside of the home, and they lose that time with their families. We thought that there had to be a better way. One of the ideas we kept coming back to was to start a T-shirt advertising company. We had been following others who had done this, and it seemed like a perfect fit for our family. The hope was that this venture would allow us to remain close as a family, make a respectable living, teach our children the value of hard work and a little about running a business, and to do the charity work and community service projects we want to do.

Companies should be willing to pay us to wear their logo because they get a lot for their advertising dollar with our program. We currently have over 6,000 friends/followers on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and our Tumblr and WordPress blogs. We do not simply tweet and post about your company, however, as some might expect. What we do is all about interaction and immersion. We connect on a personal level with our online community, and many of our followers have become close friends. They value our opinion, and we value theirs. Our website also receives roughly 20,000 hits per day. In addition to this, we have been, and continue to be, in the national media. In fact, one recent story about us received nearly 1 million hits. Our media attention is our customer’s media attention. Where else can you get your company/product in front of that many people for $2? We are a real family, and other real families are interested in what we have to say, and the products we use and like because they identify with us, and we are genuine. The Billboard Family is the only advertising company in this unique position, and we can help turn that into sales for your company. And with prices beginning at only $2, the ROI is enormous.

Advertising for companies is just the tip of the iceberg. What we do can be tailored to almost any situation. For example, how cool would it be to have us wish someone you care about a happy birthday online? Have an upcoming CD or book release? We can help get the word out on that, too. Have trouble remembering your wedding anniversary? We will make sure that it is one that is never forgotten…on the correct day! As you can see, we can do just about anything on your day, and our prices are very reasonable.

Still not convinced? There is more. We are a very charitable family. We believe charity begins at home, and we follow that belief. We have always given to others in need whenever possible. Our children really enjoy it, and so do we. In fact, when we buy our children a new toy, they usually ask us to give their old toy to someone who doesn’t have any toys. They learned this at a very young age, and it is part of who we all are. We decided to put this charitable spirit into action through this company. On our home page, for example, we have a dedicated section highlighting a reputable non-profit organization for one month. We ask for nothing in return, and this is open to all non-profit organizations, as long as they are reputable. Additionally, in 2011, we will be donating 10% of our GROSS sales for the year to the 12 featured charities in 2011. When you advertise with us you are also helping out some worthy causes.

Where did you get the idea for the unique pricing structure, in which the price you’re asking goes up $2 each day in 2011?
CM: This pricing structure is similar to some of the T-shirt advertisers that came before us. We liked it so much, we decided to use it as well. The beauty of this structure is that it allows small businesses and individuals, as well as large companies, the ability to advertise within their budget. It is also kind of fun, and it is a hot topic of conversation when someone new first sees it. In addition to buying individual days, we also have monthly sponsorships available, as well as yearlong partnerships.

So how is business going so far?
CM: Business is going well! We launched only on September 24, 2010, and we already have 20 days sold in January, 2011, and 1 in March, 2011. We also have many people on our mailing list that have expressed interest. Additionally, we have 2 partnership spots filled, as well.

How do you respond when people say you are exploiting your children with this venture? What are you doing to protect them from the inevitable backlash?
CM: There have been some people who have said just that, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Our position is that we are simply living our normal lives (we take photos and videos in T-shirts anyway). The only difference is we are wearing T-shirts with rented space on them, that is all. In rebuttal to those who say this is exploitation we like to ask, “Do your children wear branded T-shorts?” The answer is obviously yes. Almost all clothing is branded. We are just getting paid to wear the logos, instead of paying to wear them. Are sponsored little league sports teams exploitative? I think most would say no. If playing a sport with a company logo emblazoned on the uniforms is not exploitation, then why is wearing a sponsored T-shirt? We simply do not understand the criticism, honestly. Our children are very happy, especially being involved with what we are doing. In fact, when we originally decided to start this company, my wife and I were going to be the only participants, but our children really wanted to be involved. They think it is fun doing what we normally do while wearing a different T-shirt every day. What kid wouldn’t like having a different wardrobe on a daily basis? We have a lot of fun with all of this.

To protect our children from the backlash, we routinely vet any possible interviewers, and we have yet to let our children do any press themselves. Making our videos is one thing, but some members of the press can be unscrupulous, using whatever means they deem necessary to improve their ratings or readership. This company was started with family in mind, and we will not do anything, or any amount of exposure or money, to damage our children, or their reputations. In fact, we have turned down several interviews because they seemed like they might have portrayed our family/children in a negative light. We were the topic of one negative article already. The reporter sold himself as a nice person just seeking the truth from the source about our family, and what we are doing. He then wrote a very negative article that led to even more negative comments, one actually stating that we “should be murdered.” Ever since that article was published, we have thoroughly vetted our media contacts.

Do you have any ground rules on which companies you won’t serve as billboards for? For example, would it be OK for your family to wear T-shirts advertising gambling, fast food, ultimate fighting leagues, alcohol, and such? I’m assuming porn is out?
CM: Of course we have rules! As this is a family business, the content of the T-shirts must be in line with family. On our terms and conditions page, we clearly spell out what we deem appropriate, and inappropriate T-shirt content. To answer your question more specifically, we would not wear T-shirts related to gambling, ultimate fighting leagues, alcohol, or pornography. As for fast food, we would consider it based on the content of the T-shirt. We would have to approve the t-shirt prior to accepting the company as a client, and wearing the T-shirts.

I would like to add that on January 1, 2011, I will be wearing a T-shirt for a company that prints T-shirts related to professional poker. My wife, and children will not be participating that day, at all. This is clearly marked on the logo on the calendar for that day with white text that reads, “Carl Only.” This was pre-arranged with the company prior to them buying the day. I felt that this was acceptable because they are a T-shirt printing company, they represent professional players, and the proceeds of sales from the specific T-shirt I will be wearing that day go to charity.

Have you done the math yet and figured out how much you’d gross if you sold out every day in 2011? How much could your family earn?
CM: If we sell every day in 2011, the gross sales will be roughly $120,000. This does not include the monthly sponsorships or the year long partnerships.

Finally, you could wind up with a whole lot of T-shirts at year’s end. What are you going to do with all of those T-shirts?
CM: We plan on keeping the T-shirts until the end of the year, reusing them for companies with multiple days, saving them money. At the end of the year, we will donate all of the T-shirts to charity.