The Color of Money

}A welcome splash of art or an invitation to road rage? A way to make easy money or a mindless contribution to ad clutter?

Whatever you think of the idea, more people than ever are getting paid to swaddle their cars in advertising. And they’re learning pretty quickly what the marketing game is all about.

“My car is naked again, and I’m not all that disappointed,” says Paul Hocker, whose New Beetle dripped all summer with images of Dreyer’s ice cream. “People everywhere would ask me if I had ice cream in the car.”

Hocker, who lives and works in San Francisco, had his car spiffed up by, a key player in the burgeoning wrapping market. He filled out a question naire for the company this spring, and when his credentials—type of car, driving routes, etc.—are appealing to advertisers, he gets a call and heads in for the wrapping.

Hocker may sound jaded now, but he wasn’t above reeling in $400 a month for his services, plus $25 an hour for driving in “swarms.”

“Anywhere from three to eight of us would spend a Friday night driving around grocery store parking lots,” he says. “We’d circle one four times, then move on to the next one.”

Sounds like fun—and Hocker says it was. (He even made little models of the cars for his fellow swarmers, though he admits they haven’t kept in touch.)

“I felt like the Good Humor man, especially since I was advertising ice cream,” says Derran Cannady, who joined the Dreyer’s parade. “People let you pass so they can see your car. Normally they cut you off.”

“People will wave, but they’re waving at the car. It makes you feel a little more popular than you are,” adds Chris Gabler, whose SUV sports the logo of his company, My Free, a rival of Autowraps that’s working on a business model to give drivers their own new wrapped cars.

On the whole, the wrappers like to style themselves as renegades intent on bringing justice to the people. “It reallocates outdoor ad dollars to those who buy the products and use the services,” says Daniel Shifrin, founder of Autowraps.

Fair enough. But will throwing some cash around really get the ad-weary populace to play ball? A quick survey of nonwrapped drivers in New York brings varied answers.

“I can just envision another driver passing me on the highway, trying to read what my car door says and … CRASH!” says Dawn Roode, who works in magazine publishing. “I’ve got enough things to worry about.”

“Carrying a D’Agostino’s bag is one thing, but wrapping your car in maxi-pad ads is quite another,” adds Lucy Bayly, a staffer at Harper’s Bazaar. Bayly’s husband, Kirell Lakhman, a Reuters journalist, is philosophical in a different way. “I would do it,” he says, “unless it had ‘Jesus’ in the copy.”

Gabler, getting back to basics, says wrapped cars just look better. “The status quo isn’t pretty,” he says. “These cars can really be beautiful.”