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REPORT #3

 

(exerpt from a Time Magazine article)

Author: Jim Chappell

Get Paid to Drive? We didn't believe it either at first, so we checked it out. Here's what we found...

Would You Wrap Your Car in an Ad for $400? Of course you would--you're an American! So here's how it works...

Let's say someone offers to pay you cash money to get into your car every day and drive to and from the office, the same as you usually do, with just one catch. A vinyl wrapper will be stretched over the car so that it looks like you're driving a pint of ice cream.

You tastefully decline, choosing not to contribute to a culture in which everything is for sale and ads are scrawled on every inch of space that isn't part of someone's forehead. But what if they paid you enough to wipe out your car payment? Or if the ad were for something cool, like a dotcom? You're a red-blooded American. For the right price, of course you'd sell out. So in case you were wondering 23,000 people got there ahead of you.

"I was stuck in traffic one day and thought, 'Wow, all these cars look really boring,'" says Daniel Shifrin, 31, a former executive headhunter who started Autowraps in San Diego last year and moved it to San Francisco in February. "I'd read where outdoor-advertising space was so scarce and the demand was growing, and I thought--the car is the last form of available real estate out there."

Welcome to the NASCAR Nation, where a trip to the market may soon seem like two laps in the Cracker Barrel 500. Shifrin says he's done $1 million in sales this year and has 160 cars on the road draped in the same clear-vinyl ads you see on buses. Most of the cars are in the San Francisco area, where drivers get as much as $400 a month, but Shifrin has business in 11 cities and an online registry of 23,000 people who want in on the deal.

[One company] in San Francisco, pays drivers $350 a month to use their own wheels but hopes to find advertisers who will cough up free cars.

Shifrin sees a day when thousands of drivers get car insurance in exchange for a wrap. Others see the end of the world. "It's the same as putting a billboard in your front yard. The public realm is being visually polluted," says Jim Chappell, president of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. Gary Ruskin of Commercial Alert, a Washington watchdog group, wonders if auto ads can be outlawed as a traffic hazard. "The advertising industry is in our face at every turn, and many of us feel assaulted."

Wake up, Gary. The war is over, and you lost. Every other yahoo on the street is proudly advertising for Tommy Hilfiger, John Deere or the Boston Red Sox. At least auto wraps drivers get paid. "I'm making the choice to do with my car as I please," says flight attendant Billy Dulin, 33, as we tool around San Francisco in his Volkswagen Beetle. Dulin pockets $250 a month for a partial wrap pitching Lowestpremium.com car insurance.

A full wrap costs about $3,000 to produce, and advertisers pay as much as $2,000 a month on top of that. One happy Bay Area customer is Adrienne Kolowich, marketing manager of an online lottery called LuckySurf.com. She had seven employees' cars wrapped and hired a full-time driver. "I can have him drive down Highway 101"--where a billboard can cost $100,000 a month--"or across the Golden Gate Bridge, or have him hit a Giants game."

Ali Mohebbi, 45, a restaurant-equipment supplier in San Francisco, is turning heads at Fisherman's Wharf. His Beetle is wrapped in a snowy landscape to pitch Dreamery, the gourmet line of Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream. Passersby take pictures and ask for free samples.

"Let's say it were a condom ad, Ali--the perfect wrap. Would you still do it?" I ask. He says there's no way he's driving around in a condom. A pedestrian stares at Ali's car, looking like she's already had a scoop or six. "How about this deal, Ali?" I ask. "You get paid $400 to drive around doing nothing, and I get paid to ask you stupid questions?" It's America, says a smiling Ali, who grew up in Iran. "That's why people come here." He hits the gas, and we're like two nuts in a speeding sundae, selling, selling, selling as we go.

"It's like putting a billboard in your yard." --JIM CHAPPELL

COPYRIGHT Time, Inc.

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