Wanna piece of me?

Nothing is sacred when it comes to bizarre sponsorship deals. Last week, a mum-to-be even auctioned her bump. Clare Rudebeck tries to sell her soul

The first rule of sponsorship is that, the richer you are, the more you get for nothing. This means that Beyoncé Knowles (personal fortune estimated at £40m) has a £1m deal with L'Oréal. While I (personal fortune laughable) have no sponsorship deals at all. Indeed, the freebies thrown at celebrities are now so valuable that they have their own security. At this year's Oscars ceremony, heavies will guard presenters' goody bags, which are valued at more than £20,000 each.

The first rule of sponsorship is that, the richer you are, the more you get for nothing. This means that Beyoncé Knowles (personal fortune estimated at £40m) has a £1m deal with L'Oréal. While I (personal fortune laughable) have no sponsorship deals at all. Indeed, the freebies thrown at celebrities are now so valuable that they have their own security. At this year's Oscars ceremony, heavies will guard presenters' goody bags, which are valued at more than £20,000 each.

However, the revolution has begun. Ordinary people have decided that it's time they got the chance to compromise their integrity in return for some hard cash. Last week, Julz Thomson, a mother-to-be from Auckland, New Zealand, announced that she had sold advertising space on her bump for £97. Sponsored weddings are catching on in the States. In return for providing the dress, music, food and drink, sponsors get a mention in the speeches and business cards scattered on every table. In Britain, companies such as AdsOnCars and Comm-motion offer private car-owners the opportunity to earn more than £200 per month by covering their vehicles in advertising.

So, how much can a non-celebrity get in exchange for their dignity? How many companies are ready to mobilise the army of people who want to get something for nothing? I put my pride to one side and get on the phone.

Sponsored weddings are fine, but I have a more ambitious project in mind: sponsored houses. As the average cost of a house is currently around £150,000, I am thinking of a deal whereby I would pay for furniture and fittings, while my sponsors would cover bricks and mortar. I decide to break in my potential benefactors gently. "Hello. I'm having difficulty buying my first home and wonder if you would consider sponsoring me in return for advertising space on the front of the property?" I say to the lady at the Halifax sponsorship department. She is very sympathetic, but says that company policy prevents her from helping me. Apparently, there are more deserving causes such as children's charities.

This is disappointing. However, I am spurred on by the story of non-celebrity sponsorship pioneer, Christina Vincelli. A receptionist from Atlanta, Georgia, she has secured £10,000 of sponsorship for her wedding in May. Of the 4,500 companies she has approached, only 20 have responded positively. My strike rate of 0 out of 1 doesn't seem so bad.

I call up Egg, the online bank. "Nice idea," says the kind man in sponsorship, "but the key is to get exposure that is relevant to the brand. However, I do sympathise. With house prices at the moment, it isn't easy, is it?" No, it isn't. Especially when companies with money to burn won't even buy me a pad in central London. So far, my attempt to get money for nothing has brought me nothing at all. It's time to get some advice. I call up Patrick Woodhead, who recently skied and kite-surfed across Antarctica, despite having the logos of 19 sponsors strapped to his arms and legs. "You've got to prove that what you're doing links in with a company's PR strategy," he says. "You have to sell yourself to the devil a little." To succeed, the modern explorer must show no fear in the face of both polar ice shelves and the frosty glare of marketing executives, he tells me.

Emboldened, I press on. I, too, will succeed where so many have failed, in penetrating the dark world of PR strategy. I decide to take my cue from those Orange ads in which film stars are paid loads of money by Orange to play themselves failing to get loads of money from Orange. There are three lessons to be learnt from this campaign: Orange likes film; Orange likes talking; Orange executives eat too many doughnuts. I phone up Orange's head office. Send an e-mail, I'm told. "I am a young, attractive media professional often found chatting on her Orange mobile about cultural issues. Would you sponsor me to wear an Orange logo and talk loudly about films on my mobile in public places?" I write, brilliantly linking the themes of talking, films and not eating all the doughnuts. However, it seems Orange doesn't like talking to me. I receive no response, though this may be because they're busy with the doughnuts.

I am not downhearted. Especially after I log onto eBay and see how many other people are trying to swap obscurity for money. The craze started last month, when an American student, Andrew Fischer, received over £20,000 to advertise an anti-snore remedy, on his forehead for 30 days. And the expectant Julz Thomson is not the only person to leap on the bandwagon. Recently, wannabe human billboards have offered space on their hands, breasts, scalp, legs, and pet dog. One woman has offered to name her baby after the highest bidder, and a Canadian family will be filmed 24 hours a day using a company's products.

Some people are doing very nicely out of this trade in body parts. Travis Hayes, a postgraduate at the London School of Economics, has been offered £5,000 to wear a company logo on his forehead for 30 days while making a film about his experiences. It seems that the money is out there if you are persistent enough and aren't hung up about things such as privacy and calling your child after a fast-food chain.

The further you are prepared to go, the more you are likely to get. Last week, the snooker player Jimmy White played at the Masters Tournament at Wembley as Jimmy Brown, having changed his surname by deed poll as part of a deal with HP Sauce. He also swapped the usual black dinner jacket for a brown one, to match the sauce.

Inspired by this story, I call up The White Company, where you can buy anything you want as long as it's white. "Hello," I say. "I saw in the papers that Jimmy White has changed his surname to Brown because he is being sponsored by HP Sauce. Do you think The White Company might be interested in me changing my surname to White, as a sponsorship deal?" "No," says the unimpressed lady who answers the telephone.

My dreams of retiring early to a little cottage with slogans around the front door are looking increasingly remote. It's time to call in the experts. I phone Anna Carloss, managing director at Cunning, a communications consultancy based in London. Cunning was the first company to put logos on students, and also pioneered "dogvertising" (putting messages on dogs' coats).

The key, she says, is getting maximum exposure. "If you walk down Oxford Street with a slogan on your forehead, you might be seen by 1,000 people in an hour," she says. "That means that you are on a par with traditional media in terms of the cost per thousand people who see the ad."

I decide to call AdsOnCars, the company that offers motorists the chance to earn money by having their cars "wrapped" in advertising. In order to maximise my chances of success, I decide to offer both of my vehicles to the company. "I ride my bike extensively around London, passing hundreds of people every day," I stress to Michael Lyons, managing director. "Do you think we could do a deal?" He doesn't think so, but he can see the potential in my seven-year-old Volkswagen Polo. "Anyone can register," he says, "and while some companies will only advertise on cars under two years old, for some products, an older car might be more fitting." Success at last. I hang up, feeling sure that soon I will be driving off into the sunset, in partnership with Stannah Stairlifts.

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