Less than two hours after she was born, Alex Martin was swaddled in a pink blanket bearing the logo of a diaper rash cream. The nurse advised her parents to wait at least half an hour before changing the newborn into the corporate onesie and hat.
Alex was branded moments after exiting the womb, her birth brought to you by a company hoping to cash in on the Martin family marketing plan.
Her newborn photos and hospital videos show her, her parents, her 5-year-old brother and 4-year-old sister all advertising the company that paid $730 to sponsor her birth. The details were blasted on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, promoted on the family's blog and posted on YouTube.
This is how her parents hope to make a small fortune this year.
MORE ONLINEVisit the Billboard Family's website.
The Martins, who call themselves the Billboard Family, offer to have their family wear a company's T-shirt for an entire day, document the experience and share it with as many people as possible. They launched their business Jan. 1, charging $2 for the first day, and increasing the rate by $2 each subsequent day.
They hope to net $240,000 from their family business venture this year, with about $120,000 of that coming from selling individual days. There are also monthlong and yearlong partnerships and negotiations for a cable channel reality show.
Carl Martin, 33, used to operate a metal recycling company until it went out of business in 2009. His wife, Amy Martin, 26, has always stayed at home and has begun homeschooling their children. About five months ago, they moved from south St. Louis County to Carl's parents' home in Murphysboro, Ill.
Carl says he and his wife originally planned to just wear the shirts themselves, but their young children begged to participate. He responds to critics who say they are exploiting their children by pointing out that most children wear some sort of branded T-shirt. The only difference, he says, is that his children are paid to wear them.
Sherry Turkle, professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says there is a much bigger difference.
“This is shaping how the child comes to see what their body is there for. It's not their body to adorn with pieces of clothing that correspond to the colors they like or their own taste. Their body is there to make money. … Once you say, 'I'm a billboard,' you're saying 'I'm for rent.' ”
And what happens when the novelty of dressing like Mom and Dad wears off and their son wants to wear a favorite Spider-Man shirt instead of one advertising spa services?
“We're pretty convincing about getting our kids to do things they don't want to do,” Carl said. Four-year-old Kaitlyn, in fact, does want to change her clothes a dozen times a day and only wear dresses, which she is allowed to do — as long as the corporate shirt goes over her chosen outfit.
“Honestly, I don't think it will be an issue,” Carl said. If the children play on a sports team requiring a uniform, they will wear the corporate shirt under the uniform and reveal it as soon as a game is over, Carl said.
The Martins are hardly the first parents to commodify their family life. From the Duggars to Jon and Kate Plus 8, this is the moment of Broadcast Parents, those who parent in public view. To a far lesser degree, even those without commercial interest, allow this entry into family life. Funny baby videos have gone viral on YouTube. Parents post questions on Twitter, blog their parenting struggles and seek advice on Facebook. It's created a culture in which children may be living in their own “Truman Show,” their lives unknowingly on display.
The Martins are either the logical conclusion of what happens when privacy ceases to exist or they are the bellwethers of the new age of parenting. They anticipate there will be plenty of other families wanting to follow in their footsteps.
They are seeking to franchise their Billboard Family business in 35 states.