March 16th, 2006
Meet John 'Your Ad Here' Smith
By Jeff Zaslow
Wall Street Journal
A little boy came into the world last Friday at 2:19 p.m., weighing 6 pounds, 11 ounces. His name: ChamberMaster Mead—after a software company that won the naming rights in a charitable auction mounted by his father.
Chris Mead, a vice president of the American Chamber of Commerce Executives, hoped to use his son’s birth to raise money for the organization’s scholarship fund. The company, ChamberMaster, which sells Web-based software to chambers of commerce, bought naming rights for two weeks, paying $375.
A consulting firm, Horizon Industries, has offered to purchase naming rights to the infant for the two weeks after that. Young ChamberMaster would then be called Horizon Industries Mead. Eventually, when corporations lose interest in the boy, he’ll go by the name John Douglass Mead, a source tells me. (OK, that source is his eye-rolling mother, Laura.)
It’s all in fun and for a good cause, but it’s also another indication that our culture has developed a naming fixation. As almost every stadium and concert hall gets a corporate moniker attached to it, regular people want in on the name game. And our impulse to attach our names to things—or to have things’ names attached to us—is easily indulged these days. Immortality can be had on the cheap.
For $54 to $139, you can have a shining star in a distant constellation named after you. Admittedly, neither scientists nor the government will use your name, and no one in that constellation will be told. But you and your star will be on file with the International Star Registry (or one of its competitors) and you’ll get a parchment certificate, a personalized sky chart and wallet cards with your "telescopic coordinates."
Well-known authors now sell naming rights to characters in their books. Last year, in a fund-raiser for the nonprofit First Amendment Project, 19 authors—including Stephen King and John Grisham—offered up naming opportunities. Readers paid between $2,250 and $25,100 to be immortalized in new novels.
Schools, desperate for funding, are allowing gymnasiums and playgrounds to be named after donors. New housing developments are selling street names. Zoos are auctioning off naming rights to newborn animals. And through scientific organizations, you can name new species of insects, monkeys and birds.
The rise in this naming phenomenon shouldn’t surprise us. We live in a celebrity culture where being noticed is a sign of success. Mix that with the prevailing mind-set that there’s a price for everything, and you end up with what marketers call a new wrinkle in "human directional advertising." People once earned cash by pacing on sidewalks with sandwich boards advertising local eateries. Now, they sell themselves.
Internet casino GoldenPalace.com says it has paid people a total of $100,000 to tattoo the company name on their foreheads, cleavage and pregnant bellies—some temporarily, some permanently. The company has also paid to name several babies and given more than $15,000 to a woman in Tennessee to change her name to GoldenPalace.com, a spokesman says.
In a poll conducted a few years ago by parenting Web site Americanbaby.com, 49% of respondents said they’d consider accepting money from corporations in exchange for naming rights to their babies. But some people are embracing corporate names even if they’re not being paid to do so. In 2000, the latest year for which data are available, 571 babies in the U.S. were named Armani, 55 were named Chevy, and 21 were named L’Oreal, according to research into Social Security Administration data by Cleveland Evans, a psychology professor at Bellevue University in Bellevue, Neb.
One of the quirkiest new ventures in the immortality sweepstakes is a company called "Save a Saying." For rates ranging from $19.95 to $54.95, you can attach your name or a loved one’s name to a well-worn saying such as "Life is not a dress rehearsal" or "You win some, you lose some."
Your saying ends up in the "international registry" at SaveASaying.com1, where the world can see your photo and an explanation of why this is "your" saying. You’ll get a parchment certificate and laminated registration card (but no royalty rights or trademark).
If you overhear someone spouting your favorite clichéd expression in a bar, "you can whip out your card and tell them, ‘You can’t use that! I have registration No. 100,314,’" says Don Powell, the company’s founder, who acknowledges his effort is a bit tongue-in-cheek.
Still, he thinks his service makes a great gift for loved ones. "It shows that you’ve listened to them all these years. What they said to you didn’t go in one ear and out the other." Among sayings already posted by customers: "It’s better to be safe than sorry" and "Give 110%!"
Dr. Powell, a clinical psychologist, heard that George Steinbrenner often says: "Winning is second only to breathing." Dr. Powell registered the expression for the Yankees owner and sent him a framed certificate. Mr. Steinbrenner’s office confirms that the certificate is now displayed on his credenza.