Art & Commerce: Sponsorship Drive

Sitting in my Sponsorship and Promotions class at Michigan State University, I was a worried senior trying to figure out what to do after graduation. While most students were planning to take their new skills and education to clients at a big ad agency, I was thinking up a plan of how I could obtain sponsorship myself, and promote the project of a lifetime.

During my college days, the concept of “overnight Internet sensation” blossomed before global eyes. We have watched Gary Brolsma and his famous “Numa Numa” video on YouTube take the world by storm. And Jud Laipply became a legend with his “Evolution of Dance” phenomenon. As I took notes in my advertising classes, I wondered how marketers were tapping into creative minds like Brolsma and Laipply, who were impacting an unsuspecting world with their groundbreaking projects.

There is indeed a group of young, innovative and talented people who are jumping into a niche which advertisers are only beginning to embrace. Though the “Numa Numa” video might not be the best face for a new marketing campaign, there are other projects being delivered with great professionalism and credibility. Sean Aiken of One Week Job set out to try a new job every week for a year ( Kyle MacDonald essentially traded a red paperclip for a house ( Hunter Weeks and Josh Caldwell found sponsorship and made a documentary film while driving Segways from Seattle to Boston ( The Lost Girls trekked across the globe for a year, sharing their travel stories at These trips and many others have been featured on Good Morning America, CNN, The New York Times, and they’re not stopping there.

These projects all have sponsorship written all over them. There couldn’t be a bigger opportunity for Monster or Career Builder than to team up with a project like Aiken’s One Week Job or for a GPS company such as Garmin or Tom Tom to partner with The Lost Girls on their global travels. The growing number of projects out there has produced an entirely new medium. A brand may have its doubts about sponsoring an unknown, but in the era of sponsorship flops like Michael Vick, there seems to be more credibility than risk in these newfound projects. Though unknown, Aiken and The Lost Girls are credible, passionate and college educated, with the potential to make a significant impact. These people and many others are a new breed of innovators who have taken their big ideas, skills and resources to develop this new medium. Many of these inspired individuals aspire to the creativity of the advertising industry and will become leaders in the years ahead.

Shortly after graduation, I got my chance to join this niche of innovators, a place where unknown characters are used to influence and motivate the public. I found myself walking into the headquarters of BBDO Detroit, seeking sponsorship from one of the largest automobile companies in the world. I pitched my big idea: visit all 50 states in one calendar year while staying with people I had never met.

Jeep accepted my project, and gave me a 2007 Jeep Compass for the road. Rather than a 15-second commercial, they were able to send someone out for an entire year with a vehicle wrapped in graphics that received constant stares on highways across the country. At every gas station (all 141 of them), potential Jeep customers approached to learn more about the Jeep and the project. The Jeep was featured on front pages of newspapers coast to coast. Instead of only getting to see a commercial or magazine ad, thousands of consumers saw Jeep’s product in person, and more than 150 passengers experienced the Compass’ features on a ride-along. As the country learned about me and the SUV, I documented the vehicle’s durability during weather and terrain changes, and created a successful mobile advertising campaign. To my knowledge, mine was the first Jeep to navigate all 50 states, at least in one year, a feat that only a few vehicles have ever claimed.

We know that consumers are savvy; they know what’s behind an ad. Today’s advertisements are moving towards real people, and not just actors, who are legitimate and sincere in their delivery. As advertisers and the new niche of Internet dreamers look to the future, we are bound to see many more independent projects obtaining more credibility and success. These projects are gaining great traction, and it is up to advertisers to make a connection to these resources.