There was a day when selling out meant abandoning your dreams and caving into mainstream society’s financial, commercial and cultural burdens. However, New York City’s cultural maverick The Naked Cowboy, a.k.a. John Burck, is taking the concept of selling out to a new level by renting advertising space on his own body.
Of course an idea this classy is ripe for the streets of Manhattan, especially Times Square, the epicenter of everything loud, bright and cheesy. In fact, considering all of the millions of dollars invested in crowding Times Square with corporate brands, lousy restaurants and entertainment options, by going personal Wow Body Ads—the company that purchased space on The Naked Cowboy’s chest and back—may be outsmarting the competition.
The Naked Cowboy is a walking, guitar-playing tourist destination, who single-handedly created a personal brand worthy of Times Square real estate prices. The man elevated the pay-to-photograph me business paradigm to an unprecedented level through his hard work and passion. He earned his prosperity, so good for Mr. Burck for capitalizing on his own success. But a branded body tattoo—how is the public going to react to that?
We’re guessing not very well. Part of The Naked Cowboy’s allure for tourists (and New Yorkers alike—the City loves people who can bring some freak) is that his persona provides a personal experience to something larger than themselves, namely New York City and all of its quirkiness, vitality and creativity.
Sure, you can have your photo taken with the Empire State Building in the background or ice skating at Rockefeller Center, but The Naked Cowboy is a living human being who can say your name, ask where you’re from and make you laugh. It’s an experience between you and The Naked Cowboy. Until now, that is.
Even though Wow Body Ads are not permanent, The Naked Cowboy will sport his for only one month, it won’t matter to those the marketing strategy affects. The tattoos will last forever in their cherished photographs, which we’re guessing is what the brand is counting on. But does anyone really want that? Um, no, not really. That’s going too far, even for Times Square.
Sure the Naked Cowboy was spawned from the crass commercialism of Manhattan, but more like a Hellboy creature and less like one of Trump’s kids. He’s unique and his own man, complete with diapers and a guitar, even in the frigid January snow. Or, at least he was that endearingly peculiar individual, until he sold out his skin, and perhaps part of his soul, to another company.